Underdogs Albania inflicted a humiliating 1-0 loss on the Norwegian national football team (landslaget) on ice cold home turf in Oslo on Friday night – described as “one of the most bitter losses I have experienced” by head coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen speaking to TV2 after the game.
In a crucial World Cup qualifying match played in brutal Norwegian winter conditions, the much-favoured home team could hardly blame the familiar weather for a devastating defeat that puts their campaign to reach the finals in Brazil in 2014 in serious doubt. The visiting Albanians, considered the weakest side in Norway’s qualifying group, frustrated their bigger-name opponents all night long, running away with a result few saw coming.
Shorts or thermals?
Fears of the cold weather in Oslo dominated pre-match debate, with predictions that, after wind chill, effective temperatures lower than -10 degrees Celsius could be possible. Some players were expected to wear thermal underwear under their usual football kits, but Norwegian captain Brede Hangeland and the country’s most capped player of all time, John Arne Riise, promised to stick to short-sleeves and shorts. “It’s part of the Norwegian mentality to play football in shorts,” Hangeland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I assume everyone here has been out on a winter’s day before and can work something out.”
Besides the cold, Norway would face one of the least fancied sides in Europe, Albania, who were nevertheless enjoying a better-than-expected qualifying campaign to date, with two wins from their first four games. Without any particularly high-profile players, most of the attention the visitors would receive before the match was created by comments from Drillo, who was particularly concerned about Albanian players’ tendency for play-acting and diving in order to win free-kicks. “If they get kicked, they roll around three extra times and hold their leg so it looks like they’ve broken it in three different places,” he volunteered without being asked when speaking to NRK. Beyond this, Drillo promised that his team would counter Albania’s likely deep defensive line by taking quick free-kicks and corners whenever the opportunity presented itself, exploiting Norway’s traditional threat from set pieces to the fullest. The experienced head coach could not stress enough how crucial winning the game would be, telling NRK that they could forget coming first in their group if they did not fulfill expectations by taking all three points.
Stunned and shamed
Poor attendances had once again been a theme before kick-off, with Drillo half-jokingly suggesting to NRK that “our new countrymen” (meaning immigrants) who, he suggested, “don’t go away for Easter” like other Norwegians, should be given free or “at least cheap” tickets to fill the stadium. It did indeed seem like few fans had braved the freezing conditions at Ullevål stadium, with players claiming later that it felt more like an away game given the noise created by the travelling Albanian support – and TV2 suggesting that there may actually have been more Albanians present than Norwegians. But those Norwegians who did turn-up were surely warmed by a positive Norwegian start, with Alexander Søderlund almost connecting to a good cross from Ruben Yttergård Jenssen after six minutes. There were few other major chances of note in the first half, although Albania hinted at the threat they posed with a shot going close after half an hour. Tarik Elyounoussi went very close a few minutes later for the hosts, but it remained goalless at half-time.
Albania came into the game more after the break but, once again, there were few chances of note. The Norwegians were soon looking to change things to get back on track but their challenge took on a whole new complexion when, against the odds, the away team took the lead after 67 minutes through Hamdi Salihi, who executed a well-worked free kick move that fooled the entire Norwegian defense with a precise finish from the edge of the box. The Norwegians were left chasing the game, with promising youngsters Valon Berisha, himself of Albanian descent, and Joshua King entering the fray. But strangely enough, it was another Berisha – Etrit Berisha, the Albanian goalkeeper – who grabbed the headlines, denying Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue and Markus Henriksen an equalizer in the two main remaining chances for Norway.
The game ended in a disastrous 1-0 loss for Drillo’s men – a wake-up call that means they can afford few, if any, further slip-ups if they are to qualify for next year’s World Cup. The team now lies in fourth place in their group, two points behind both Iceland and Albania. Landslaget‘s next outing offers little to look forward to – a visit to Albania for the return match on Friday June 7.
Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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