Egil “Drillo” Olsen was as delighted as the otherwise restrained head coach of Norway’s national football team could be, after his youngest state squad ever rolled over Hungary in an exhibition match Wednesday night. Håvard Nielsen, age 19, emerged as a new hero.
Nielsen, who plays professionally for Red Bull Salzburg but was making his debut on the national team, was the first to score in Budapest after already going on the attack earlier in the match. When his relative veteran teammate Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue kicked in a second goal, and the Norwegians continued to dominate on the field, the result was assured: 2-0, a victory that doesn’t directly help Norway qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil but did wonders for morale.
“We knew that young players were coming along, but this is a bit over all expectations,” Drillo told newspaper Aftenposten after the match. “Those who debuted today looked like they’d been playing for this team for a long time.”
Drillo, unusually senior himself at an age of 70, had assembled what he earlier said was probably his youngest national team ever. Among those chosen to travel to Hungary for what the Norwegians call a privatlandskamp (literally, private national match) were, in addition to Nielsen, 19-year-old Valon Berisha who also plays for Red Bull Salzburg, 20-year-old Markus Henriksen of AZ Alkmaar, 21-year-old Vegar Eggen Hedenstad of Freiburg and 22-year-olds Anders Konradsen of Strømsgodset, Håvard Nordtveit of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Magnus Wolff Eikrem of Molde, which just won Norway’s league championship over the weekend.
“I don’t think I’ve ever led a younger landslag than the one we have against Hungary,” Drillo said before the kick-off at Ferenc Puskás Stadium, where he easily could have been his players’ grandfather. The average age of the national team, as it goes through a generation shift after the disappearance of former star players like John Carew and Steffen Iversen, was 24.6 years and it would have been even younger if rising 18-year-old Joshua King had been along as well. A total of seven on Wedneday’s team play for Norway’s U-21 (under age 21) squad.
Drillo called the prospects posed by the talented next generation “very exciting,” and now he has just over a month before he needs to assemble the next team to play in more national matches, in South Africa on January 8 and in Zambia on January 12. The next World Cup-qualifier will take place back home in Oslo on March 22 against Albania.
Wednesday’s match was the last of 12 this year, and the 2-0 result meant that Drillo avoided having more losses than victories in a single year. It ended with five wins, three losses and four ties, with only four matches played on home turf, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. Next year’s schedule calls for nine matches at present, but more may be added along the way to Brazil.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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