Norway’s national men’s football team has some of the best players in the world, yet they keep losing critical qualifying matches. On Sunday night they disappointed their monarch, government and fans once again, when they failed to qualify for the European Championships by losing to Spain in front of nearly 26,000 supporters, mostly Norwegians.
The team unquestionably had the home turf advantage. Their elderly monarch, King Harald V, was in the grandstands for the first time in a long time because of his recent poor health. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was standing nearby, as was the president of Norway’s football federation, Lise Klaveness. They weren’t smiling, especially when fans started leaving what had been a packed Ullevaal national stadium before the match was over.
Norway lost by a score of just 1-0, but public confidence in the team’s head coach Ståle Solbakken is waning. He’s a former Norwegian football star himself, brought in to turn around a long losing streak by the team even before it could claim such stars as Martin Ødegaard and Erling Braut Haaland. He hasn’t had much success since, though, and he had to face a storm of critical questions afterwards.
Solbakken said he understands that fans are losing faith, 23 years after Norway’s last appearance in championship action. “It wasn’t the actual loss that hurts the most,” commentator Lars Tjernås stated afterwards. “What really hurts is how weak, incapable and even without a plan we were. Spain hardly needed to make an effort. This was so poor.”
Others called Norway’s performance “embarrassing.” Solbakken fended off some of the criticism, but not all. Now he can only hope to win a playoff spot in the Nations League later this fall.