Norway dominated but fell to England

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The Norwegian national football team (landslaget) was narrowly outclassed in a 1-0 loss to England after a friendly international match in Oslo on Saturday. England’s first and only goal came after just nine minutes of action.

Moa, Huseklepp and Pedersen (pictured here from left to right) created few opportunities to really test a talented England side in Oslo on Saturday night. PHOTO: football.no

In front of a sold-out Ullevaal Stadium, a moment of quality from English winger Ashley Young was the key factor that sunk Norway, which otherwise had the lion’s share of possession and posed their much-admired hosts clear problems throughout. Landslaget will be left wondering what might have been if they had converted their possession into real chances.

All eyes on England
England visited Norway as part of their warm-up for the forthcoming European Championships in Ukraine and Poland (“Euro 2012”), a tournament which Norway narrowly failed to reach after an impressive qualifying campaign. Having recently appointed Roy Hodgson as their new manager (a coach with previous experience of managing in Norway), the English travelled without the likes of Manchester United’s star striker Wayne Rooney, or recent Champions’ League winners from Chelsea, including key defenders John Terry, Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill. Andy Carroll, a much-criticized forward who has scored just 11 goals since his British record £35 million transfer to Liverpool last year, would start up front. With a media circus enveloping Hodgson before his first match in charge, Norwegian manager Egil “Drillo” Olsen told newspaper VG that he didn’t envy the pressure, although he wouldn’t mind swapping their wages. Hodgson, meanwhile, insisted to The Guardian that he wanted his players to prove why they deserved a place at Euro 2012, despite adding that Norway was considered only “preparation” for the tournament.

A match against England always draws huge crowds in Norway, and around 25,000 football fans packed Ullevaal Stadium for Saturday's match, which also was carried live nationwide on TV2. PHOTO: TV2 screen grab/Views and News

The Norwegians had far more of their first-choice options available. Nonetheless, many of landslaget‘s best players have fallen on difficult times. Winger Mortem Gamst Pedersen’s English club Blackburn has just been relegated from the Premier League, while several other key players have struggled to get first-team football at their respective clubs. Another important winger, Erik Huseklepp, is currently with English club Portsmouth but has made it clear that he has no intention of playing for the club in the third tier of English football from next season following relegation, and would therefore be among a number of players hoping to take advantage of the media spotlight around England’s visit in order to impress potential new employers. Even star striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue will have something to prove, having failed to score in his last nine games of the season for German side Hannover. Olsen suggested to VG that Pedersen would play more centrally as an inside forward in the coming game, with Toulouse-based winder Daniel Braaten coming in on the left side of midfielder and another French-based midfielder, Alexander Tettey, taking up the anchorman role in the middle.

‘A dream’ to face England
Full-back John Arne Riise described meeting England as “a dream for many” when speaking to VG. He faced his former teammate at Liverpool and newly-appointed English captain Steven Gerrard, who himself said he “couldn’t wait” to play against his friend Riise. Olsen was keener to stress to the assembled media that he had never lost to England as a coach – or, he hastened to add, Brazil. Indeed, Norway has won two and drawn one of their last three meetings with England, even though they came in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Coming into the game, Norway had recent mixed experience against teams from the British Isles – while they thrashed Northern Ireland 3-0 away in February, they were on the end of a humiliating 4-1 defeat in Wales at the end of 2011. Having slipped from 12th in the FIFA World Rankings in 2010 to 24th today, landslaget had an opportunity to show what they were made of against seventh-ranked England. As Riise put it to VG, “they have a new coach and both him and the players will want to impress,” promising that Norway would “do our best.”

Ashley Young proves difference maker
England began impressively, with their breakthrough coming early on as Ashley Young, a stylish winger who plays his club football with Manchester United, scored a superb individual effort after nine minutes. Young easily beat Norway’s best defender, Brede Hangeland, before firing an excellent shot beyond Norwegian goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein.  Thereafter, Norway generally took control but failed to turn possession into obvious goalscoring chances. Youngsters Markus Pedersen and Tarik Elyounoussi tried their best, but couldn’t quite make it past a tight and concentrated English defense. In the 66th minute, Norway had a good shout for a penalty when Moa was bundled over in the box; but, overall, Norway was most threatening from set pieces and couldn’t quite find a way past England. Many English fans were disappointed with their team’s performance, but they managed to contain Norway and come away with a fine result. Norway was particularly dominant in the second half, but lacked the quality necessary to make the breakthrough and really threaten their opponents.

Norway’s next international outing will be against Croatia in Oslo next Saturday, June 2.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher

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