When you think of Norwegian football, do you think of a minnow nation who has no hope of qualifying for anything?
Well think again.
During the second of their hat-trick of consecutive Euro 2012 qualifying victories, I began to sympathise with Portugal – not an emotion you undergo too often for a side ranked in the World’s Top 8 and boasting such a strong recent tournament record. Yet the Selecção were outgunned on all fronts by Egil Olsen’s well-drilled, cohesive Norwegians.
Portugal admittedly arrived in Oslo in poor shape after derisorily failing to beat Cyprus in Guimarães. They were disappointing at the World Cup and Carlos Queiroz was about to get the boot, but nonetheless they looked like a collection of individuals. Norway, meanwhile, looked like a team; much of the acclaim for which has to go to Olsen.
I’ve been an Olsen detractor in days gone by (his first stint as national boss saw them reach World Cups 1994 and 1998) and I’m sure I’ll be grousing again in the future. For what it’s worth, I have a penchant for fluid passing football, long-range volleys and overall flair in midfield.
But satisfying me – or those who think along similar lines – won’t be high on Olsen’s list of priorities. He does things his way, and has at times been dubbed a “football professor” for his scientific, systematic approach to the game. ‘Drillo’ was one of the first managers to use video analysis of matches, as well as amassing statistical data to find out which playing styles are the most effectual.
No surprise then, that there is purposefulness, discipline and above all lucidity when it comes to the class of Autumn 2010. They always seem to have a clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish.
Olsen has argued time and again that Norway simply do not possess the all-round quality to beat top teams like Portugal, hence the exigency for an astute tactical plan which is compatible with the attributes they DO have.
In the Portugal triumph, Olsen’s masterstroke was for menacing striker John Carew to drop deep and combine with central midfielder Henning Hauger. Not only did this help hold up the play, it also sucked in the Portugal defence, creating space for skilful attacker Erik Huseklepp on the wings (more on him in a future blog!). The Iberians were exposed, and Cyprus will now know how they feel, having yielded to wave after wave of swift Norwegian counter-attacks in Larnaca a week ago.
Yes, this is one of my boxes that Olsen has ticked; he believes breakaways should be carried out as fast and directly as possible before the opponent can organise their defence. Youthful forward Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue – who last summer joined Hannover from Vålerenga for €1.3 million – has been a central character in these breaks, bursting forward at some speed. The Morocco-descended man can also “run off-the-ball” (å være uten ball), a phrase originally coined by Olsen to depict cult hero Øyvind Leonhardsen.
With all this pace, opposition defenders are unearthed as slow on the counter and invariably concede free-kicks…Cue a swerving delivery from Jon Arne Riise’s trusty left boot and tall central defenders Brede Hangeland and Kjetil Waehler jostling to head home.
The aforementioned duo are assiduous, uncompromising and dedicated in their defensive duties. Olsen is a zealous enthusiast of zonal marking, a policy which left the World number eights bereft of ideas long before the end. The physical prowess of tough-tackling holding man Christian Grindheim (in my mind of one Europe’s most under-rated midfielders) lulls the opposition into a false sense of security then “turns on the taps” to unleash the pace of the wide players.
4-5-1 without possession becomes 4-3-3 with the ball.
Grindheim, of Heerenveen in Holland, is also an excellent dressing room influence, the kind of person who naturally puts team above self. He was instrumental in Norway’s opening qualifying victory in Iceland (the same team they could not beat in their preceding campaign) and will need to be 100% focused for another “derby match” when the Danes come to Oslo in March.
But that game is 5 months away, and right now Olsen’s men are 3 points ahead of De Rød-Hvide, plus 2 ahead of a Portugal team who have played a game more (although they are on a resurgence under new coach Paulo Bento).
2011 will bring tricky trips to Copenhagen and Porto, so Norwegian fans shouldn’t get too complacent. They should be mindful of their last three qualifying rollercoasters, all of which gave rise to near-misses: losing their play-off for the 2006 World Cup, missing out on Euro 2008 by a solitary point and being eradicated as the worst runner-up in the 2010 series.
Nonetheless, 9 points from 9 has engendered a lot of sanguinity within the country, and justifiably so. If it does not spark thoughts of automatic qualification, Norway have shown they can at least consider second spot as a highly realistic option in what looks already like a three-horse-race.
But they must repeat everything they have done this autumn and then some. No use beating Portugal if slips are made of the sort that have occurred in the past against Macedonia and Bosnia. And for all there has been to admire in the ruthless efficiency and organisation, greater attacking variety will also be required.
If you want the beautiful game then I wouldn’t suggest an expedition to Oslo is a good idea, but if you like hard-fought wins built on the foundations of tactical discipline, physical power and sporadic devastating counter-attacks then Norway are right up your street!
More Norway News
Yo football fans and WCB devotees!
My name’s Alistair Becker and I’m 18 years old…I’ve been following football for most of these 18 years!
I’m now taking over the Norway page!!! Don’t worry, you can still view the older posts by previous writers in the archive. I will be posting regular pieces on all things Norwegian for your delectation read more]
This blog needs a new writer. If you think you’ve got what it takes to write about the Norwegian national team for World Cup Blog, then read our application guidelines and send us an email.
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Norway was today grouped with Portugal, Denmark, Iceland and Cyprus. A tough group, but also one we have every chance to qualify from. Portugal are favourites to win this group, but struggled remarkably in their last qualifier. In the same group then were Denmark, who beat the Iberians for the top spot and automatic qualification for South Africa 2010. The ... [read more]
Finally given the job on a permanent basis, Egil Olsen will be in charge of the Norwegian National Football Team for the next three years. Olsen has always been a controversial figure in the football world, with his left-wing political opinions and his often criticised style of football. He’s also known for his extreme knowledge about world geography. Ask Egil ... [read more]
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