Martin Ødegaard, the 15-year-old Norwegian football comet, failed to score in his first match for the national team, but did well enough to impress coach Per-Mathias Høgmo. Now Høgmo faces a dilemma over whether to let Ødegaard play in two important upcoming matches as well.
Ødegaard got good reviews from Norwegian sports commentators on Thursday after Wednesday’s exhibition match against the United Arab Emirates in Stavanger. Newspaper Aftenposten went so far as to state that Ødegaard was better than all the others on the field. The match ended with neither side scoring and all eyes still on Ødegaard, who became the youngest player ever to nab a spot on the national squad.
The teenager from Drammen who plays for his hometown’s top league team Stømsgodset attacted most of the attention on Wednesday and Høgmo agreed he did well. “Offensively, he was very close to scoring a goal, and he was involved in a few chances (for a goal),” Høgmo told Aftenposten. “So we can say that he made a good debut.”
Next week the national team, now lacking a captain and in the midst of a generation shift, faces England in another “private” national match at Wembley stadium in London. Then things will really get serious with its first qualifying match for the European Championships, against Italy at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo. Now Høgmo has to decide whether Ødegaard, who wasn’t selected for a spot on those teams, should have a chance at playing after all.
Høgmo has chosen 18 players for the two matches so far and there are five or six open spots. The question is whether Ødegaard might get one of them.
“Now we’ll spend the next few days to decide who’ll play, and we also have some pros playing abroad, so we’ll see how they do,” Høgmo said. He admitted it may be hard not to include Ødegaard after his promising debut, despite his age.
“It’s great to see that when we first set him up, he was so sure of himself and he did what he could,” Høgmo said. “It was a very acceptable debut, but I had expected that.”
Ødegaard himself said he wasn’t dwelling on the prospect of playing at Wembley on September 3, or at Norway’s own national stadium on September 9. “I am, as everyone’s noted, 15 years old and I’m not in a rush to advance to a national team’s troop,” he told Aftenposten. “I played a good match (in Stavanger) and Per-Mathias will choose those he thinks deserve it.”