The Norwegian national football team (landslaget) was beaten by Poland in a friendly (non-qualifying) international match played in Portugal on Wednesday night – despite outclassing their opponents and dominating the vast majority of the game.
Before the game, the Norwegian team’s excellent recent form – which has seen them beat the likes of Portugal to top their European Championship qualifying group and climb to 11th in the world rankings – was the subject of media build-up. Their rediscovered success has certainly raised the profile of Norwegian players – and attracted many European clubs to show an interest in Norwegian football again.
So many national team players have now left Norway’s top league (‘Tippeligaen’) for Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere that only five outfield (non-goalkeeping) players in the national squad continue to ply their trade in their home country. Coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen considers this to be a good thing, believing that one would have to go back to the 1990s – Norwegian football’s “golden era” – to find a similar situation.
He said Thursday morning that he was surprised by his players’ performance Wednesday night. Norway stuck with a familiar line-up to face the Poles, with Alexander Tettey being the only major change to the side from the team that beat Ireland 2-1 last November. Tettey, the tireless Ghana-born midfielder who now plays for French club Rennes, would start his first international match in over a year. Landslaget began in Olsen’s favoured 4-5-1 formation, with English Premier League star John Carew leading the attack with support from fellow English-based winger Morten Gamst Pedersen and Erik Huseklepp, who recently joined Italian club Bari from Bergen-based Brann.
The Norwegians started the match brightly and after 15 minutes should have scored – but defender Kjetil Wæhler failed to capitalize on the Polish goalkeeper’s errors, and the chance was wasted. Poland would soon after punish Wæhler and his team-mates by scoring the first and only goal of the match, when striker Robert Lewandowski found himself in acres of space as he advanced forward and tried a long shot that squeezed past Norwegian goalkeeper Jon Knudsen into the net. Knudsen will blame his defenders for allowing the goal scorer space to shoot, but most of the responsibility must lie with the goalkeeper himself, who, at this level, should be making the save. Norway dominated the remainder of the half, and should have scored yet again when captain Brede Hangeland missed from excruciatingly close range with a header in the closing stages – but with striker Carew largely isolated, and Gamst Pedersen and Huseklepp seeming a step short of their best, Norway could not manage a goal.
Winning and wasting position
This lack of potency in front of goal persisted in the second half. Norway were just as consistent in winning possession as they were at wasting it in the final third, fashioning a series of half-chances without finding the decisive final ball. Despite suggesting he would bring on exciting young striker Mohammed ‘Moa’ Abdellaoue to play alongside Carew during the game, head coach Olsen swapped the towering Carew directly for Moa, a player who, despite his undoubted skill, lacked the physical presence of Carew when playing as the main striker. As a result, landslaget failed to create enough opportunities, and slumped to a disappointing 1-0 defeat.
Although the friendly loss means nothing in the grand scheme of international football, it does not bode well for Norway’s next game – a crucial European Championship qualifying match against Scandinavian rival Denmark in March. The Danes, an impressive side who on the same evening narrowly lost 2-1 to world-class England, will be a far tougher test than Poland.
Norway’s players will therefore need to rediscover their cutting edge as they carry increasing hype, and the country’s renewed hopes of football glory, forward.