Martin Ødegaard breaks record at 15

Norwegian becomes the youngest athlete to play in European Championship qualifier

Photo: Vegard Grøtt / NTB Scanpix / NRK Martin Ødegaard, thrilled to make history by playing in a European Championship qualifier.

Photo: Vegard Grøtt / NTB Scanpix / NRK
Martin Ødegaard, thrilled to make history by playing in a European Championship qualifier.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

At just 15 years and 300 days, Martin Ødegaard of Norway received international fame as the youngest athlete to ever participate in a European Championship qualifier. The young talent debuted in Norway’s home match against Bulgaria on October 13.

The midfielder for Strømsgodset made his much-anticipated appearance in the 64th minute in place of Mats Møller Dæhli. Norway had led the game for most of the first half after Tarik Elyounoussi’s goal in the 13th minute, but Bulgaria leveled the score right before halftime with a goal on a corner kick. When Ødegaard took the field, the match was still tied at 1-1.

“It was fantastic to come in,” commented Ødegaard to NRK. “I had imagined it was a totally different pressure and faster tempo, and that it was.”

The Norwegian crowd was ecstatic with Ødegaard’s debut after anxiously waiting for this moment, and the young athlete welcomed the attention.

“It was a great feeling playing at home in front of such a large crowd. I was nervous when I came on to the pitch, but when you are given a chance like that you just have to try to enjoy it. It’s cool to have the record now,” said Ødegaard to Goal.com.

The record was previously held by Icelandic midfielder Sigurdur Jónsson, who debuted in 1983 at 16 years and 251 days. After 31 years of maintaining the record, Jónsson hands over the honor to Ødegaard.

2014 has been an extraordinary season for young Ødegaard, and his fans can only expect great things ahead. Prior to the European Championships, Ødegaard had already broken three national records: he became the youngest player to play in Tippeligaen on April 13, youngest to score in the league on May 16, and youngest to play for the national team on August 27 in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates.

The 15-year-old has reportedly been scouted this season by such soccer giants as Manchester City, Manchester United, and Barcelona, and has already traveled to England to train with Manchester United.

While international fans celebrate Ødegaard’s significant achievements, many soccer experts are surprised that the national team manager, Per-Mathias Høgmo, decided to introduce the young player to the European Championships at such a critical moment.

TV2 commentator Petter Myhre expected to see Ødegaard debut in the secured 3-0 victory against Malta on October 10, rather than in a tied-up match. “He had little involvement, but he appeared so fearless,” noted Myhre on Ødegaard’s composure. “I must say that it was quite brave of Høgmo. I was surprised he did not get to play against Malta—that would be a pretty easy start. Instead, he was tossed straight into the cauldron when we needed goals.”

NRK’s soccer expert Karl-Petter Løken shares Myhre’s surprise at Høgmo’s actions. “It was great that we put a 15-year-old in, but I think it’s special that he dared to drop him into a match that was on the line at 1-1,” he said.

But Høgmo defends his choice: “It was a good opportunity for him. I decided to give him a role he knows well from his club,” notes the manager to Goal.com. “Before he went on I told him to do what he does for his club. I would rate his game a little above average today.”

Another second-half substitute, Håvard Nielsen, proved to be an additional key move by Høgmo. Nielsen scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute of the match, securing a victory for Norway.

With this win, Norway obtained another three points in the Euro 2016 qualifiers for a total of six. The Norwegian team now resides in the third-place position of Group H, behind Italy and Croatia. On November 16, Norway will take on their next European Championship match against Azerbaijan.

With a goal in the qualifiers, Ødegaard could crush the next milestone in his career and head into the international spotlight once more. For updates on Ødegaard’s performance, follow along with Norway’s journey in the European Championships qualifiers.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 31, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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