The Norwegian national football team (landslaget) left it until the 88th minute to beat Iceland in their crucial European Championships qualifying match in Oslo on Friday night – with the arrival of veteran striker John Carew late in the game inspiring the team to a precious if unimpressive 1-0 win.
As the game seemed to be heading for a 0-0 draw – the kind of result that would surely not do enough to help Norway’s chances of qualification for the 2012 European Championships (known as ‘Euro 2012’) – the introduction of Carew seemed to give landslaget new life. Carew would go on to win a penalty that Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue put away expertly, giving the team a hugely important 1-0 win before their decisive trip to Denmark on Tuesday.
Before the game, Norway was joint top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group with Portugal and Denmark. Landslaget‘s qualifying campaign has seen the team beat Portugal and perform beyond expectations following the return of legendary manager Egil ‘Drillo’ Olsen, with Norway rising as high as 11th in the FIFA World Rankings. Norway needed a good result against Iceland in order to keep their Euro 2012 dream alive.
Iceland started the game brightly, with Rurik Gislason forcing a good save from Norwegian goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein after just three minutes. Norway, missing star players John Arne Riise and Morten Gamst Pedersen through injury, looked adrift and one step behind their opponents for much of the first 15 minutes of the game, as if the side were either not taking Iceland seriously enough or, conversely, overly nervous in this important qualifying battle. Nevertheless, landslaget were able to take control for the remainder of the first half, carving out several decent chances without ever looking like breaking the deadlock. Iceland would be happy to have kept Norway at bay and went into half-time with the score at 0-0.
The second half was even more one-sided in Norway’s favour, with Iceland never really threatening Jarstein’s goal and Norway doing all the running. But despite streaming forward in wave after wave of attacks, Norway was unable to puncture Iceland’s organized and purposeful defending, with many of Norway’s better players wasting good opportunities to turn chances into golden opportunities to score. Frustration began to build as the half went on, with Norway denied the goal they so desperately sought by ever decreasing margins. The best chance of all came when midfielder Alexander Tettey hit the post with a beautiful curling shot after 68 minutes.
Norway team was completely in charge of the match but running out of ideas until coach Drillo introduced John Carew, an experienced veteran striker who, despite recent setbacks, remains one of the greatest footballing talents Norway has ever produced. Not for the first time, the height and strength of Carew was a uniquely threatening asset for Norway, and Iceland looked unable to contain his size and ability.
‘John, we need you out there’
Assistant manager Ola By Rise told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he had told the striker, “John, we need you out there.” As time continued to tick away, Carew came to the rescue for Norway in the 88th minute with just two minutes of normal time remaining. Latching on to a free ball and doing well to hold off a defender, Carew attempted to round Icelandic goalkeeper Stefan Logi Magnusson, who ended up clearly fouling the striker and conceding a penalty. Carew’s strike partner Moa – who had been all too silent during the rest of the game after a fantastic performance against the Czech Republic less than a month ago – was charged with taking the crucial penalty that would surely gift Norway the win. Showing his composure and class, Moa hit the penalty high to the goalkeepers left, giving Magnusson no chance and handing Norway another massive victory towards Euro 2012.
The win means Norway and Portugal are level on points at the top of their Qualifying Group H, with Denmark three points behind, having played one game less than the joint group leaders. Norway faces Denmark on Tuesday in what promises to be the biggest fixture of the qualifiers so far for Norway. With Denmark rivaling Norway at the top of the group, a win for either side would be decisive in the final standings. For now, Norway can be consoled by the vital 1-0 win, but questions must be asked about the accompanying performance. Norwegian fans will hope for an improvement – and another good result – against their arch Scandinavian rivals in Copenhagen on Tuesday.
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