The battle to meet the best nations – VG

MATCH WINNER: Morten Gamst Pedersen scored the winning goal the last time Norway won in Slovenia, in 2005. Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / vg

It would have been fun to bring nations such as Belgium, France, England, Italy, Spain or Portugal to Ullevaal in important football matches. And now it is actually possible. But then Slovenia should be beaten on Saturday night in Ljubljana.

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With two games left to play in the Nations League level two, Norway leads. Had it not been for the only disappointment in the qualifiers so far, against Slovenia (0–0), Norway would have already been pool winners by a long way.

The two lost points means that the tension is still there, but Norway has the lead – and manages this well even if the job is done on Saturday and/or Tuesday.

Four points in the last two games, Slovenia away on Saturday and Serbia at home on Tuesday, then pool victory and promotion to the Nations League’s “elite series” is a fact.

And thus matches against the best and most crowd-friendly nations in the next Nations League, full houses and lots of attention. And that’s why, among other things, it’s important to win this pool.

Norway has had an almost perfect Nations League so far, with wins both at home and away against Sweden and away against Serbia. But against Slovenia at home it didn’t go so well. It was a disappointment with 0–0 at home, especially after Norway won the chance statistics 10–2.

It should have been a win – as Norway has been used to against Slovenia in particular: Since 1998, Norway and Slovenia have met 10 times, Norway has won six and lost only one.

The 4–0 victory at home in 1999, where Norway secured the European Championship place in 2000, is well remembered by many. It was a Norwegian national team at its very best, with Drillo’s way of defending and slightly different types offensively under Nils Johan Semb.

But against the same nation, in the European Championship play-offs nine months later, Norway was unable to score, despite a stack of good attackers on the field at the same time, Steffen Iversen, John Carew, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Tore André Flo – perhaps it was too many. 0–0 led to Norway being eliminated in the group stage, Nils Johan Semb was on his knees, captain Ståle Solbakken despaired – and neither Semb nor the national team fully recovered from this.

Perhaps not until now, precisely under Solbakken’s leadership.

It is almost exactly 17 years since Morten Gamst Pedersen sent in the winning goal in the WC qualifier. A good Norwegian national team, perhaps the best we have had between EC 2000 and now, came second in the group, behind the future WC winner Italy. Norway finished in the play-off against the Czech Republic, number two in the FIFA ranking, and lost 0–1 and 0–1.

Since then, Norway has lost 3–0 there in Per-Mathias Høgmo’s first match as national team manager (2013) and played 1–1 in the Nations League under Lars Lagerbäck in 2018.

At home in Ullevaal, Norway had four straight victories against Slovenia, before the workplace accident in June (0–0).

Victory in Ljubljana now could soon be enough for Norway to both win its Nations League pool and move up into seeding group two for the EC qualification – if Sweden takes points away against Serbia.

If not, Norway will get another match ball – against Serbia at Ullevaal Stadium on Tuesday.

It should work this time. Maybe Martin Ødegaard will be healthy enough to play.

And then Norway has Erling Braut Haaland.

That may soon be enough.

The article is in Norwegian

Tags: battle meet nations

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