Norway to Euro 2016 playoffs
After losing their qualifying match to Italy, the Norwegians meet Hungary for their final shot at the 2016 UEFA European Champs
Norwegian American Weekly
For over a year, the Norwegian men’s national football team has been fighting for one of the 24 spots at the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France next summer.
In the qualifying round, they’ve played each of their fellow Group H teams—Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Malta—twice, once at home and once away. While the top two teams in the group automatically qualify for Euro 2016, the third-place team has to battle it out in the playoffs for a ticket to France.
It was looking pretty good for the Norwegians heading into the final qualifier; they’d won six of nine matches and ranked second in Group H, leading Croatia by two points. If they could beat Italy or Croatia lost to Malta, Norway would secure one of those 24 spots at Euro 2016.
Italy is far from easy competition, though. In fact, going into the match the team had played 49 consecutive qualifiers at home without a loss.
Hoping to break that streak, the Norwegians faced the Italians at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on October 13.
The game was scoreless until the 23rd minute when Norway’s Alexander Tettey, a midfielder for Norwich City, was able to get his left foot on the ball and make a low shot past Italy’s goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon.
The Norwegians retained this 1-0 lead well into the second half. But with only 17 minutes to go, Norwegian defender Haitam Aleesami attempted to kick the ball to goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland, but the ball didn’t make it far enough, and Italy’s Alessandro Florenzi was able to get his foot on it and deflect it into the goal to equalize the match.
As the Norwegians started to show more exhaustion, the Italians picked up their energy and scored again in the 82nd minute with a shot to the left back post by Graziano Pellè.
With this 2-1 loss (and Croatia’s 1-0 win against Malta), Norway ended up in third place in Group H with 19 points. Italy and Croatia therefore qualified for Euro 2016 with 24 and 20 points, respectively, while Norway must continue on to the playoffs.
Although Norway’s coach Per-Mathias Høgmo is disappointed, he agrees that Italy played better and deserved to win. “The table is right. Italy has been the best throughout the entire qualification. They know how to win soccer games,” he said.
He still stands behind his players, though. “First and foremost, all the guys deserve credit for working hard over the 90 minutes. They will be praised for that,” he commented to TV Norge.
“It was close. They were good. They created opportunities. We resisted them for a long time. Then they scored two goals, and it really was well deserved considering their play. We win and lose together, and we will try again in November,” said a positive Nyland to TV2.
Seven teams will join Norway in the eight-game playoffs: Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine, Slovenia, Hungary, and Bosnia. Out of these teams, four will advance to France. The UEFA ranked the top-four and paired them against the bottom four unseeded teams. On Oct. 18, the UEFA announced that Norway will face Hungary, first at home on Nov. 12 and then away on Nov. 15.
Most Norwegian football experts consider Hungary to be the smallest threat of the bunch, and the team is therefore pleased about their opposition. Norway has a good record against the Hungarians, and if they can keep it up, they will find their way to the championships.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.