Zuccarello excels again, at football

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Norwegian hockey star Mats Zuccarello Aasen has been on summer holiday back home in Norway this week, shifting his playing arena from Madison Square Garden in New York City to the Ekeberg football fields in Oslo. Zuccarello played with other Norwegian sports celebrities in a charity football match tied to the huge Norway Cup youth football tournament that kicked off on Sunday, and he impressed everyone around.

Hockey star Mats Zuccarello Aasen (left) turned into a football star while home in Norway on holiday this week. Skiing star Petter Northug (right) eyed him carefully before their charity match on Wednesday, but Zuccarello beat him with a goal and two assists. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Vegard Wivestad Grøt

Hockey star Mats Zuccarello Aasen (left) turned into a football star while home in Norway on holiday this week. Skiing star Petter Northug (right) eyed him carefully before their charity match on Wednesday, but Zuccarello beat him with a goal and two assists. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Vegard Wivestad Grøt

In the style to which his New York Rangers hockey fans have become accustomed, the young Norwegian scored a goal, after just 10 minutes of play. He also assisted on two other goals, resulting in his team, which was playing for Redd Barna (Save the Children), beating the rival team that was playing for the tournament’s “Handshake for Peace” campaign.

That meant that he further humbled Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug, who was leading the “Handshake for Peace” team. Northug has already been humbled by a disastrous season last year and then a serious drunk-driving spree in which he crashed the car provided by sponsor Audi. He’s been trying to redeem himself since, but he couldn’t beat Zuccarello.

“This was fun,” Zuccarello told TV2 after the match, in which his team beat Northug’s by a score of 3-1. His goal was described as “a pearl of a chip” over Frode Grodås, former goalkeeper for the Norwegian national men’s football team. “It’s nice to see such goals enter the net now and then,” smiled Zuccarello, who recently became the first Norwegian to ever play in the finals of the NHL Stanley Cup in the US.

Fresh from scoring a lucrative new contract with the New York Rangers, which makes him one of Norway’s best-paid athletes, Zuccarello reminisced about his days playing football in the Norway Cup himself. “One of my best sports moments was when I came to the Norway Cup final with (Oslo club) Vålerenga,” he told newspaper Dagsavisen. That was in 1999 when Vålerenga’s 11-year-olds met Mathare United of Kenya. They lost, but it was a big deal for a young boy playing in the world’s biggest youth football tournament.

Zuccarello was considered a talented football player before he turned his attention to ice hockey. Now he’s become one of Norway’s, and the US’, most sought-after sports stars. On Wednesday he made it a priority to meet young fans, hand out autographs and also show, as he told Dagsavisen, that he and the other sports celebrities playing are normal folks, too. He conceded, though, that “it’s important that the young have idols. Everyone needs someone to measure themselves up against.”

Nils Johan Semb, Norway’s former national football coach who co-managed Zuccarello’s team along with Finance Minister Six Jensen on Wednesday, said Zuccarello “could have dominated” Norway’s top football league if he’d played in it. That’s high praise, but Zuccarello stressed he was just having fun now.

“This is a great way to relax when I’m home on holiday,” he told Dagsavisen. “In around two weeks I’ll travel back to New York and start the run-up to the (hockey) season.”  There probably won’t be much time for football then.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund