Norway’s national football team (landslaget) was easily beaten 2-0 by Nordic rivals Denmark on Tuesday night in Copenhagen, leaving its chances of qualifying for the European Championships in 2012 (‘Euro 2012’) looking very slim indeed.
The team’s qualifying credentials were reaffirmed with a 1-0 win in Oslo against Iceland on Friday, but the Scandinavian grudge match against the Danes was always going to be decisive. The defeat means Denmark is now level on points with Portugal and Norway at the top of their Euro 2012 Qualifying Group H – but, crucially, both Portugal and Denmark have played a game less. Norway’s fate is now in their rivals’ hands and fans can only hope, against the odds, that the Portuguese or Danes will drop points in their remaining two games in order to let Norway back in.
Denmark looked confident in front of their home fans from the beginning of the match, with Lars Jacobsen forcing an excellent save from Norwegian goalkeeper Rune Allmenning Jarstein after just eight minutes. A series of threatening Danish attacks followed and, while Norway’s star striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue showed a glimpse of his quality with Norway’s first chance of the match, it was Denmark that took the lead in the 24th minute through Nicklas Bendtner, who kept his cool to finish a flowing attack after good work down the Danish right by Dennis Rommedahl. Norway’s left-hand side looked defensively flat-footed throughout the first half, giving their opponents far too many opportunities to threaten Jarstein’s goal. The Norwegian goalkeeper dealt well with a number of further determined Danish efforts but was arguably at fault for Bendtner’s second goal just minutes before half-time – although the striker surprised Jarstein with a low shot from around 25 yards, the goalkeeper should nonetheless have kept the ball out. Instead, the Danes would go into half-time with a 2-0 they largely deserved.
The second half was a tame and dull affair, with Denmark keeping control and giving few if any notable opportunities for Norway to find a way back into the match. Norway had clearly travelled to Copenhagen hoping for a draw and did not seem to know what to do in the face of a two-goal deficit. Head coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen decided to implement an all-too-predictable Plan B with around 20 minutes remaining when he brought on striker John Carew – whose introduction into the game against Iceland last Friday proved decisive – but the much-admired Danish defense had clearly prepared for the possibility, keeping Carew’s contributions limited. The match ebbed out to a huge 2-0 victory for the Danes, who always looked assured of victory in Copenhagen.
Much of the media focus before the game had surrounded how the match was only available on pay-TV. After the game, the controversy continued after it emerged that the game’s broadcaster, Canal+, had been overwhelmed by those trying to watch the game on their website and clients’ sites, leading to their coverage crashing. Canal+ is promising compensation to those affected, but their reputation suffered a severe blow and the pay channel was the target of a huge amount of complaints from angry viewers who mostly missed the match’s first half.
There was little consolation otherwise for Norwegian football fans, whose hopes were raised by earlier performances by the national squad during the qualifying campaign but who now face the very real prospect of failing once again to reach a major international tournament. Norway’s remaining qualifier may be against comparatively easier competition in the form of Cyprus, but Norway will have to win that match and hope that either or both of Portugal and Denmark slip up in their remaining fixtures if they are to have any chance of qualifying.
In all likelihood, Norwegians will have to watch Euro 2012 without the participation of their landslaget – and will already have to begin pinning their hopes of qualifying for a major competiton on the qualifying stage for World Cup 2014, which begins next year.
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