Norway’s national football team (landslaget) put in a far from vintage performance but picked up three crucial points for their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign in a somewhat flattering 3-1 away win against Cyprus on Tuesday.
Buoyed by a superb performance in their 1-1 draw at group favourite Switzerland just four days before, the team had to fight their way back from 1-0 down after conceding an opening goal for the seventh game in a row. Having been shown up by their less high-profile opponents on several occasions, the Norwegians rode their lack and ultimately made their class advantage tell through goals from Brede Hangeland, Tarik Elyounoussi and Joshua King, who grabbed his first goal ever for his country.
Spirits were high among not only Norwegian players but also the media after the return to form against the Swiss. Still, the goal scorer in that game, captain Hangeland, was keen to stress to newspaper Dagbladet that nothing but a win and three points would be acceptable during their trip to Cyprus, especially given the way the team had been shocked and defeated by Iceland in September when they were last the favourites in an away tie. Coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen was forced to make one change from the successful starting line-up against Switzerland; holding midfielder Håvard Nordtveit was suspended, being replaced by another young midfielder, Molde’s former Manchester United starlet Magnus Wolff Eikrem. He and his teammates would meet a Cypriot squad that despite managing to beat Iceland (just days after the Icelanders defeated Norway) nonetheless conspired to lose 3-1 to Albania and 2-1 to Slovenia in their other qualifying games. Landslaget had never been beaten by Cyprus but were well aware of their reputation as a small but fearless football nation, and certainly no push-overs.
Cypriot scare before return of the King
It was indeed a courageous Cyprus that started the game, outplaying Norway for the first 15 minutes and almost taking the lead several times, with Georgos Efrem going closest with a header that rattled the Norwegian post. Replays showed that goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein got a crucial hand to that header, and the goalkeeper was playing with renewed confidence after recent criticism for his international performances. But despite keeping Norway’s opponents at bay for much of the half, there was nothing Jarstein could do about Cyprus’ goal when a cross from Efstathios Aloneftis took a wicked deflection off John Arne Riise and looped into the net. It was a slice of pure luck for Cyprus which had, after their early display of dominance, been completely overrun by their more fancied opponents. Landslaget had come more and more into the game, threatening as usual from set-pieces and hitting the post themselves through towering defender Vegard Forren. But just as against Switzerland, the way they reacted to the goal was truly commendable – just two minutes later, Hangeland netted an equalizer following a Riise free-kick, mimicking the way he had scored just two minutes after Switzerland’s goal a few days before.
The half-time whistle was probably the last thing landslaget wanted to hear as they flooded forward looking for another goal – but they continued their enterprise in the second-half, taking control of their tiring opponents. King was brought on at half-time and the Manchester United reserves player looked brighter than many of his compatriots who were guilty of missing a string of first-class chances. Cyprus reminded Norway every now and again that they had not given up and almost embarrassed them further when the lively Efrem hit the post. The hosts would nonetheless come to rue their luck when Norway finally took the lead. King was the provider, surging forward and winning a penalty after being impeded in the box. Winger Elyounoussi stepped up confidently and dispatched the penalty with ease to give his country a 2-1 lead. And just minutes later, it was all over when the two young forwards swapped roles, Elyounoussi this time bursting forward and feeding King, who cut and shot through a defender’s legs past the hapless Cypriot goalkeeper. The 20-year-old could celebrate his first goal for landslaget and give the travelling fans and sun-loving expatriates in the stadium a reason to relax, as Norway saw the rest of the match out with their comfortable 3-1 lead.
On a different night, against a better side, Norway might have been punished for their lapses of concentration, but they have now notched up seven points from their first four qualifying games. That puts them second in their group, three points behind main rival Switzerland with much football to be played between now and the finals in Brazil. Their last outing of 2012 will be away at Hungary on Wednesday November 14.
Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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