Norwegian football in 2009
This year has been a good one for Norwegian football, especially compared to the disastrous 2008 season. Here are some of the things we’ll remember from 2009:
JAN 11: Egil Olsen is installed as interim manager for the national team. He replaces Åge Hareide, who resigned one month earlier after leading the side for five years. The appointment of Olsen is regarded as quite a shock, especially since his preferred style of football has been criticized by many. The Norwegian Football Association (NFF) reveal that they intend to hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the post in the future.
FEB 11: Olsen leads Norway for the first time since he left in 1998. In what was expected to be a very difficult encounter, Norway beats Germany 1-0 at the Allianz Arena. The visitors creates more chances than their German hosts and Christian Grindheim (Heerenveen) scores the only goal of the match. Olsen’s comeback could not have been any better!
MAR 28: Match against South Africa in Regensburg, RSA. Hopes are high after the great display against Germany, but this time we are let down again by our players. Without any signs of enthusiasm and spirit we are outplayed by the World Cup hosts, and a late South Africa strike makes it 2-1 and a very deserved loss.
APR 1: Finland are beaten 3-2 at Ullevaal Stadium, Norway. Former Charlton Athletic striker Jonatan Johansson gave the visitors the lead right before the interval, while left back John Arne Riise equalized in the 56th minute. In the stoppage time, we witnessed a real goal galore. Jon Inge Hoiland sent Norway in front, only for Eremenko jr. to put things even in the next attack. We were heading for a draw when Morten Gamst Pedersen, who at times has struggled to win over the Norwegian fans, gave us a victory with a great strike.
Olsen put Norway back on track in 2009 and will be in charge until 2012
JUN 6: Away match against FYR Macedonia in Skopje. We desperately needed a win if we still wanted to be in the chase for a World Cup ticket. Unfortunately, the whole thing turned out to be an extremely drab affair. John Carew were denied a penalty in the first half, but a win would have flattered us in a game where we were way off the required standards. The only player looking lively this afternoon was Goran Pandev (then Lazio, now Internazionale), who showed some neat details at times. Not even he had the inspiration to make this something but a bore 0-0 draw.
JUN 10: Unable to harvest any positives from the Macedonia game, we would have to detonate a bomb to get anything out of the next game, against the Netherlands in Rotterdam. Olsen had prior to the match told journalists that the Netherlands had a few things to learn from Norway and our direct style of football, compared to their possession-oriented style. Our old manager may have put the smiles on a few faces, but our football that day was nothing to laugh about. We were outplayed by the home team, who could have beaten us a lot more than 2-0 if they bothered.
AUG 12: After the two fixtures in June, no one longer expected us to qualify. The lack of pressure may be one of the reasons why we put together such a strong performance against Scotland at Ullevaal. Yes, they’re not exactly a European superpower when it comes to football (or anything else for that matter), and yes, they got Gary Caldwell dismissed before half-time when the score was still 0-0. But still, the Norwegian performance was quite impressive. We seemed solid at the back and we finally managed to give the home fans something to smile about in an important match. A thunderbolt by John Arne Riise, a debut goal for young Erik Huseklepp and a double salvo by Morten Gamst Pedersen secured a very nice result against our biggest rivals for the second spot in our group.
SEP 5: As time showed, a second spot didn’t necessarily mean a chance to have a go in the playoffs. The weakest second placed team of the nine groups would not be allowed this privilege, and draws against Macedonia and Iceland, as well as two defeats against the Netherlands, meant that we were already struggling. We had to get three points against the lowly Icelandics, but failed to deliever again. Riise, our most reliable goalscorer is a left back, gave us the lead, but we struggled to dictate the game. Their star Eidur Gudjohnsen equalized with a strong header after some bad marking by the Norwegian defence. Extremely disappointing, the match ended all square and Iceland even looked the better team.
SEP 9: Still disappointed by the poor display a few days earlier, a few new faces were given a chance to shine against FYR Macedonia. One of them, Thorstein Helstad, playing his trade in French club Le Mans, took his chance and gave us the lead after only two minutes. John Arne Riise doubled the lead with a cunning freekick, and we strolled through the first 60 minutes untroubled. They pegged one back ten minutes before full-time, but didn’t manage to nick any points from us in the end. We ended the qualifying campaign with a victory and finished second in our group, thanks to a Scotland defeat against the Dutchmen. But unfortunately, and deservingly, we had not picked up enough points to enter the playoffs.
NOV 14: Our last game of the year is played against Switzerland in Geneva. In a tight and boring contest, we manage to beat the hosts, qualified for next year’s big happening in South Africa, 1-0. John Carew executes a penalty after Gamst Pedersen is fouled by Liverpool’s Phillip Degen inside their area.
2009 turned out to be quite a good year for our national team. With Olsen in charge again, we played nine games this year. Five of them produced victories, and only two were defeats. Compared to the disastrous 2008 season where we didn’t win a single one of the eight matches, 2009 was certainly a step in the right direction. At the end of the year, Olsen got the job on a permanent basis, and he will lead Norway until 2012, when former Norwegian International Ståle Solbakken’s contract with Danish outfit FC Copenhagen expires. Solbakken will then take charge with immediate effect.
I will be a lot more active on this blog in 2010. That’s a promise.
bj is def on his own little island when it comes to skill at 155
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