Norge / Norga / Norway
- Capital: Oslo
- Official Languages: Norwegian, Sámi
- Nicknames: Løvene (The Lions – men’s team); Gresshoppene (The Grasshoppers – women’s team)
- Association: Norges Fotballforbund (NFF)
- FIFA Code: NOR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (1938, 1998)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (1991)
- Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (2000)
- Best Euros Result (Women): WINNERS (1987, 1993)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 2nd (October 1993, July-August 1995)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 2nd (July 2003)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 88th (July 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 14th (June 2018)
- Most Capped Player: Hege Riise – 188 caps
- Top Scorer: Isabell Herlovsen – 67 goals [as of Jan 2021]
The Kingdom of Norway has a long history in international football both in the men’s and women’s game. The men’s side has been slightly overshadowed by their Scandinavian neighbours for the majority of their time but have had their periods of success. Norway first golden age was in the late 1930s when they were bronze medallists in the 1936 Olympics, beating the hosts Germany earlier in the tournament. They would subsequently qualify for the 1938 World Cup, getting beat 1-2 after extra time by the eventual champions Italy. It wouldn’t be until 1994 when they qualified for their second ever World Cup, the start of the second golden age of the men’s team under the leadership of Egil Olsen, which saw the team reach as high as 2nd in the FIFA rankings. Today it would seem Norway may be experiencing their third golden age, with such high-quality and very talented young players progressing into the senior team, led by the likes of Erling Haaland, Martin Ødegaard and Jens Petter Hauge. Norway are certainly a team to keep an eye on for the next decade of men’s international football with this generation of players perhaps being Norway’s best-ever.
The Norwegian women’s national side has certainly been the most successful of the two national team of the country, with the Norwegians continuously being one of the best sides in European and World football. Their ‘golden period’ came between 1987 and 1995 when the Gresshoppene won two European Championships in 1987 and 1993, followed up by Norway’s greatest football achievement by winning the 1995 Women’s World Cup, beating Germany 2-0 in neighbouring Sweden. Ann Kristin Aarønes was also the top goalscorer with 6 goals. Sadly since their glorious triumph, success has been increasingly more fleeting. Between 2001 and 2013, they reached at least the semi-finals and finishing as finalists twice, whilst also finishing fourth twice in the World Cups. However in the 2017 European Championships, they lost all three group games, their worst ever Euros performance, but have since managed to improve by reaching the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup. In addition, they have managed to qualify for the 2022 European Championship as group winners, finishing ahead of defending European champions Netherlands, and without the services of former Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.
To talk about one of the most potentially exciting nations in international football who seem to be experiencing the start of their ‘golden generation’, we interviewed the very knowledgeable Ben Wells. A professional analyst for Football Radar, who covers Norway (and other countries), as well as writing for various others sites, and with a book scheduled to come out in 2022. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @FRfotballBen
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
So I’ve only properly covered Norwegian football since 2015 but grew up with the likes of John Carew, John Arne Riise & Morten Gamst Pedersen all playing in their prime. For me, Norway’s greatest manager is Egil ‘Drillo’ Olsen who led the team to their most famous victory versus Brazil in the 1998 World Cup. He developed a style of play that may not have been pretty on the eye, but was definitely effective, and saw Norway climb to their highest ever world ranking.
As for players, there are a number of historical players such as Odd Iversen & Jorgen Juve who probably have a good shout to be the best ever Norwegian player but for me personally, as a player who I really enjoyed watching in his prime in the Premier League, I have to say Morten Gamst Pedersen is my personal favourite. Easy on the eye, with a beauty of a left foot. As a Liverpool fan, I used to wish every summer that we would sign him but alas be became a Blackburn cult hero instead!
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Erik Mykland is one who comes to mind as a cult hero of the past. He played like a Brazilian and though his career may not have been as successful as some other past Norwegian legends, he was always one of the best players to watch and garnered a huge cult following amongst both Norwegian and IK Start fans, which was his hometown club. In the present day, I wouldn’t say there’s one player with the same kind of following but I have a feeling someone like Jens Petter Hauge could soon become a cult hero simply because of the way he plays and the enjoyment he outwardly projects from playing football.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Norwegian national side currently?
I think Erling Haaland is the best player of the current generation. Of course, Martin Ødegaard is sensational, but Haaland has the potential to become the best striker in the world. There are genuinely so many players to choose from, though, and players such as Sander Berge and Jens Petter Hauge also have the potential to become very, very good players in the future.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The best way to describe the current state of the Norwegian team is that it is a team in transition. They are now moving on from Lars Lagerbäck, onto Ståle Solbakken, who will lead the team forward hopefully to their first major tournament in over 20 years. The squad is very talented and is certainly blossoming into a ‘Golden Generation’ but after the disappointments of Lagerbäck’s tenure, especially towards the end, Solbakken will have a lot of work on his hands to get the best out of this Golden Generation. Some people, including myself, are not 100% convinced that Solbakken is the right man to get the most out of this crop of players, but, he is something of a legend in Norwegian football and has a good CV to date including success in Denmark with FC København.
Q. Are there any Norwegian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There’s a number of brilliant young players in the National Team squad… Erling Haaland, Martin Ødegaard, Sander Berge, Kristoffer Ajer & Jens Petter Hauge all have the potential to become world class players. Outside of that bubble, I am certain that players such as Osame Sahraoui of Vålerenga and Sivert Mannsverk of Sogndal will eventually become full internationals. Both played domestically in Norway this year but I would be surprised if they stayed in the country much longer, with huge interest from abroad. Leo Østigård of Brighton & Hove Albion (but currently on loan at Coventry City) is progressing well also and should be able to nail down a starting spot in the full National Team in years to come.
Q. Looking at Norway’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
As mentioned before, the 1998 win versus Brazil at the World Cup is always regarded as Norway’s peak. Coming from a goal behind to win 2-1, thanks to goals from Kjetil Rekdal and Tore André Flo was a huge achievement and one that is still celebrated to this day. It meant that Norway qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup, though Christian Vieri and Italy soon put an end to their run.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
I wouldn’t say there’s a single performance that is regarded as the lowest point of Norwegian football, not in my time anyway. However, the recent defeat AET against Serbia in the Euro 2020/2021 playoff round was hard to stomach. Norway came into the game as slight favourites and would have backed themselves to win, with a team including Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard. However, manager Lars Lagerbäck got his tactics wrong and so Norway struggled for much of the game despite finding a late equaliser to take the game to extra time. Serbia duly scored again in extra time to win the game, but the disappointment after that match was palpable. Norway were expecting to win, given the amount of new talent in their squad, but once again fell at the final hurdle.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Norwegian national team?
I love following Norwegian football because the fans in Norway are so passionate and so knowledgeable about their team, I don’t think I have ever come across a more educated fanbase when it comes to the history of the National Team. I know that if I tweet or write something not completely correct, 4 or 5 people will always call me out on it! But, it’s just such a fun time to be following Norwegian football.
As I say, I have covered this country in a professional capacity for over 5 years now and the current crop of talented young players are sensational to watch. I watched Erling Haaland’s debut aged 15 for Bryne and to now see him as one of the best strikers in the world is crazy. I’ve also followed Jens Petter Hauge since he was a 17 year old in the second Norwegian tier, so very much enjoy seeing him play for AC Milan and the National Team. I genuinely think I get more enjoyment now watching Norway play, than I ever did watching England (2018 World Cup aside…).
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Honestly couldn’t say, unfortunately, I’ve yet to experience my first National Team game live from the stadium. But it’s in the pipeline! When allowed…
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
The current Nike away shirt is a thing of beauty, a blue and white kit stylised to look like icebergs coming out of the shirt. But, throwing it back a way, my favourite Norwegian shirt of all time has to be the 1992 Adidas home kit. It’s a classic Adidas design and the collar looks absolutely beautiful.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Norwegian national team?
My hopes for the future are that this current crop of players go on to achieve what I believe they are capable of, which at worst would be a quarter final of a major international tournament. In 5+ years, with players such as Haaland and Ødegaard in their prime, I have no doubt that Norway will be able to achieve this at least. However, for many fans, just qualifying for a major tournament and seeing Norway back on the biggest stage of world football for the first time in 20 years, would be enough.
A massive takk skal du ha to Ben for answering our questions on the Løvene. Remember you can find their excellent accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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