Norway eases past Northern Ireland

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Norway’s national football team (landslaget) came away 3-0 winners from a comfortable but largely uneventful friendly international match against Northern Ireland in Belfast on Wednesday night. The victory helped redeem the team, but coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen was merely “satisfied.”

Håvard Nordtveit scored his first ever goal for Norway in the win over Northern Ireland. Nordtveit, who has played for English club Arsenal, is currently drawing much praise for his performances in Germany's Bundesliga. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Rising star midfielder Håvard Nordtveit scored his first goal for landslaget to give Norway the lead just before half-time, with Tarik Elyounoussi and Espen Ruud adding the final two goals in the last few minutes of the game. The result goes some way to erasing the memory of an embarrassing 4-1 defeat for Norway on their last trip to the British Isles – when they lost to Wales last November – and also gave manager Egil “Drillo” Olsen an opportunity to test a number of established and promising internationals.

Landslaget most recently featured in the King’s Cup in Thailand in January, a tournament where players under age 23 are usually picked instead of senior international players. Despite the Norwegians only managing to beat Thailand and draw with the Danes, as well as losing 3-0 to South Korea Under-23s, a number of young players impressed coach Drillo during the trip and got a call-up to the full squad to face Northern Ireland. Norway’s last proper outing was the unexpectedly one-sided 4-1 loss away in Wales in November, and Drillo had made it clear to newspaper VG that the visit to Northern Ireland was “more important than a normal friendly match” because of the Welsh defeat. The friendly would have further special significance as Norway’s players promised to wear black armbands in memory of Knut Torbjørn Eggen, a former Norwegian player and manager who passed away just a few weeks ago.

Carew dropped, Drillo hits out
Much press attention before Wednesday’s match concerned the absence of legendary striker John Carew, who has struggled to find form at English second-tier club West Ham. Carew was infamously dropped from the international team last summer over concerns about his fitness and commitment, and Drillo now posed questions of his choice of club. “The signals I’ve received and what I’ve read suggest he has to change club,” Drillo told Norwegian media. Carew himself has promised that he is in better physical shape, having sent out pictures of his leaner upper body on Twitter, and described himself as “very well-trained at the moment” to VG. A number of other previous landslag regulars, including French-based midfielder Alexander Tettey, were also left out because of a lack of first-team football.

Drillo had also hit out before the game at the coverage of landslaget by the Norwegian press. The national team and Drillo himself have often been the targets of criticism for what has been perceived as  negative, unentertaining playing style. “I am sick of criticism that is wrong,” he told VG, describing many attacks on his tactical choices as “completely unwarranted.” Some have supported Drillo’s outburst, while others including author Aslak Nore attacked the head coach for “playing the victim” again.

According to Norway's football association (Norges Fotballforbund, NFF) Drillo had been "extra tense" before Wednesday's match against Northern Ireland. PHOTO: Norges Fotballforbund / fotball.no

Drillo also promised “many substitutions” as part of an effort to look at the form of both aspiring young players and experienced internationals. With first-choice central defenders Brede Hangeland and Kjetil Wæhler out with injuries, Vadim Demidov (who plays for Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga) and young Glasgow Celtic starlet Thomas Rogne came on board. The 21 year-old Rogne, who has impressed for the Scottish Premier League leaders, would make his first-ever international appearance. In addition, Rosenborg’s 19-year-old playmaker Markus Henriksen would again get a chance to shine in centre midfield after impressive performances in Asia; he would start alongside Nordtveit, a 21-year-old who has taken such huge steps forward in recent months with German high-flyers Borrusia Mönchengladbach that he is attracting attention from English Premier League giants Liverpool among others, according to newspaper Aftenposten. Beyond that, Drillo could also pick from established internationals like star striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue, who this week received the Gullballen prize for Norway’s best football player in 2011 after scoring three crucial goals for Norway last year as well as 11 goals so far this season for German club Hamburg.

Three goals but little entertainment
Northern Ireland, placed some 62 places below Norway in the FIFA World Rankings, started brightest, and nearly opened the scoring in a goalmouth scramble midway through the first-half in which Norweigna goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein had to make a string of reflex saves. Beyond that, there were few chances of note until landslaget took the lead when Nordtveit caught sight of goal from a corner that Northern Ireland failed to clear – his shot would find its way into the back of the net through a slight deflection.

The second-half was equally uninspiring, as Northern Ireland failed to make a breakthrough in their first match under a new manager. It took until the 87th minute for Norway to increase their lead through Tarik Elyounoussi, who showed any big European clubs watching his class with a smart finish. Full-back Espen Ruud’s volley a few minutes later was too much for the Northern Irish goalkeeper to keep out, and meant Norway finished with a commanding, if slightly flattering, 3-0 lead.

Following the victory, Drillo said he was “satisfied” with the win – and the fact that many young players received valuable playing time – but thought his team was “under par,” particularly in the first-half. Goalscorer Nordtveit added that he was happy with his own display, but that the team “must have more belief in ourselves and hold onto the ball more.”

Norway’s next international will be another friendly in Oslo against England on Saturday May 26, seen by England as a crucial warm-up for the European Championships this summer.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher

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