Høgli header saves Drillos’ dream

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An unlikely hero in the form of Tom Høgli secured the Norwegian national football team (landslaget) a precious point in their 1-1 draw against Albania in World Cup 2014 qualifying action on Friday.

Tom Høgli Drillo landslaget football

Full-back Tom Høgli, who plays his club football with Belgian outfit Club Brugge, scored only his second international goal to hand the Drillos a vital point. PHOTO: Jarle Vines/Wikipedia Commons

After Albania beat Norway in an impressive but surprising 1-0 victory in Oslo back in March, landslaget (nicknamed the “Drillos” after their legendary manager Egil “Drillo” Olsen) faced a daunting trip to Tirana with expectations at their lowest point during a once-optimistic World Cup qualifying campaign. The result in Albania is still not what the team would have wanted just a few months back but does leave their hopes of reaching the tournament in Brazil in 2014 intact.

Optimism ebbs away
Drillo’s squad had some notable absentees coming into the game, including Norwich midfielder Alexander Tettey and key striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue. Most conspicuously absent of all was former captain and record appearance holder John Arne Riise, who announced his emotional retirement from international football in May. In many respects, the announcement of the main landslaget squad was overshadowed by debate around the Norwegian under-21s squad travelling to Israel for the Under-21 European Championships in June. Indeed, a survey by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) showed optimism around the national team had reached an unusually low ebb – just seven of 10 Norwegians believe their team can still make it to Brazil.

Drillo’s men looked eager to put things right in Tirana, starting the game competitively and having the better of the first half. The quality of football on display from both teams was not at its highest, with a number of simple errors and glaring misses. Albania came close on two occasions, producing a good save from Norwegian goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein after just a single minute. However, Norway had their fair share of good chances, coming closest through a Markus Henriksen volley after 30 minutes and almost finding Daniel Braaten in front of goal some minutes later. Immediately following that Braaten chance, and somewhat against the run of play, Albania took the lead, with Valdet Rama holding off the Norwegian defenders and placing the ball beyond Jarstein.

Høgli keeps hope alive
The second half became a desperate search for a Norwegian equalizer as the Brazilian dream hung by a thread. Drillo brought in, among others, Valon Berisha, a player of Kosovo Albanian descent. However, the veteran manager was forced to resort to sending towering defender Brede Hangeland up front and playing a long ball game in the hope of finding an equalizer as their opponents defended bravely. It took 86 minutes, but landslaget eventually found a way through from a corner, with the comparatively diminutive figure of full-back Tom Høgli finding the back of the net with a header.

It was enough to give the Norwegians a point but not enough to convince the players or the fans. Captain Hangeland was crystal clear to NRK, telling them that their current standards would not bring them to the World Cup finals. However, Drillo conceded to newspaper Dagbladet that while they would not have been satisfied with a draw before the game, they were “fairly pleased” given how the game had panned out. More pleasing still were results elsewhere, where rivals Iceland fell to a somewhat unexpected 4-2 loss against Slovenia. Together, this means Norway remains in fourth place in the group, just two points behind Albania in the second place play-off spot. Still, Switzerland is three points away from the Drillos at the top of the group with a game in hand, making automatic qualification to Brazil an increasingly distant possibility.

Norway will next face Macedonia in a non-competitive friendly international at home in Oslo on Tuesday.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher

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