No-r-way to World Cup for Norway
Late goals by Netherlands eliminates Norwegians
JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
The Norwegian men’s soccer team will not be traveling to The World Cup in Qatar next fall after losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in the last decisive qualifying match Nov. 16 in Rotterdam. Norway’s loss against the Netherlands and Turkey’s 2-1 victory over Montenegro mean that the Norwegians placed third in their group. The Netherlands won the group and qualified directly, while Turkey, who placed second, will enter a playoff competition against the second-place teams from the other qualifying groups.
The Norwegian men’s team has not qualified for a major championship since the European Championship in 2000.
Heading into the last qualifying round, the Netherlands was leading the group with 20 points, while Norway and Turkey were tied in second with 18 points each. If Norway had beaten the Netherlands and Montenegro won points from Turkey, Norway would have won the group and qualified directly to the World Cup. Norway missed getting another point in a 0-0 draw with Latvia on Nov. 13 before a sold-out crowd at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo. It looked like that spelled the end for Norway, but two late goals lifted Montenegro to a 2-2 draw with Netherlands.
Even though Norway had to win the game to qualify for the World Cup, the Netherlands was in control of the match from start to finish. The Dutch dominated possession, and the Norwegian players were mostly located around their own 20-yard box. Whenever the Norwegians tried to create something offensively, the Dutch defense shut it down effectively.
The Norwegians’ plan seemed to be to not concede an early goal and hope to score a late goal on a counterattack. The Dutch played too well, however, and with Norway’s biggest (and only) offensive threat, superstar Erling Braut Haaland, out with a hip injury, the Norwegians struggled to create even a single goal-scoring opportunity.
The score was even 0-0 until 84 minutes of play when Norway lost the ball on the halfway line. The Netherlands countered quickly, and Steven Bergwijn finished the attack with a superb strike in the top corner. Memphis Depay made it 2-0 one minute into injury time.
Not having qualified for a major championship in over 20 years, few believed that the Norwegian team would be able to qualify for the championship in Qatar when the qualifiers started last year. But the appointment of coach Ståle Solbakken, combined with Haaland’s impressive performances in European club soccer, seemed to renew the team’s enthusiasm internally and the Norwegian people in general in their national team. The team seem more focused, single-minded, and positive than they have been for years. The improvement is clear for everyone to see, but it didn’t go their way this time.
Despite the defeat, Solbakken tried to highlight the positives in his post-match press conference.
“I am 99% sure we’ll qualify for the next championship [the European Championship in 2024]. With the progress the guys have had during this qualification, and the confidence they have, I am sure we will be playing in Germany and further build on this,” he told Norwegian TV2.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.