The Norwegian national football team (landslaget) completed their nearly successful European Championships 2012 (‘Euro 2012’) qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win in Oslo against Cyprus on Tuesday night.
Norway’s fate in the qualification rounds was all but sealed before the game kicked-off – landslaget came into the game needing to win and score a huge number of goals in order to finish ahead of Denmark or Portugal at the top of the group on goal difference. With qualification therefore only a remote mathematical possibility, the Norwegians were looking for a fitting finish to their often exhilarating qualification campaign with another victory against Cyprus, as head coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen promised that things were far from over.
The team was missing a few first-choice players coming into the game, including star striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue. Moa had been scoring freely for his German club side, Hannover, this season and was sorely missed by landslaget. Cyprus, at the bottom of the qualifying group, was also missing a few of their better players, and travelled to Oslo off the back of a 4-1 loss at home to Denmark last Friday.
The Norwegians were clearly dominant for much of the first half, with the gulf in class between the teams all too obvious. With wave after wave of dead balls given away to landslaget, it was only a matter of time before the hosts took the lead.
And so they did after 25 minutes, when Morten Gamst Pedersen headed in unmarked from a corner for his 16th goal for his country. Less than 10 minutes later, Norway once again capitalized from the Cypriots’ lacklustre defending, with John Carew finding himself with an open goal and heading in after the Cypriot goalkeeper had failed to deal with a John Arne Riise long throw. Landslaget was cruising at this stage and the question seemed to be when, rather than if, they would add to their lead.
But just before half-time, the Norwegians conceded an unfortunate goal – and while they may complain that Ioannis Okkas was offside, Norway’s defenders were caught off-guard, with captain Kjetil Wæhler falling over and giving Okkas a chance one-on-one with goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein. Although Jarstein made a good save, he could do nothing about the follow up, as Okkas gave his country a lifeline before the break.
The second-half began with a few fantastic chances for a lively Cyprus side, capitalizing again on some worrying defensive shakiness from Norway and particularly stand-in captain Wæhler. A stronger side may well have punished the Norwegians – but, instead, landslaget was able to quickly regain control, once again knocking in dead ball after dead ball. Further goals seemed inevitable, and a third duly arrived after 65 minutes through right-back Tom Høgli, who cut-in from the right and hit a left footed shot that took a deflection on its way into the back of the net. A string of chances that Norway should have put away then came and went, with goal scorer Carew and fellow forward Erik Huseklepp wasting good chances to add to their team’s lead. Nonetheless, fans will have been pleased to end the campaign on a positive note.
The result and performance were fitting given the way Norway had performed throughout the qualifying campaign – there were glimpses of quality, defensive weakness and luck, but the outcome was a good result that points to promising times ahead. The win means that Norway ends up third in their qualifying group, level on points with Portugal, which has superior goal difference, in second – a position few would have bet money on when the campaign started a year ago.
Norway can now put the Euro 2012 qualifiers behind them and concentrate on the qualifying round for World Cup 2014, which begins next autumn.
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