ULLEVAAL STADION (VG) “The next football match is always the most important”, is one of Nils Arne Eggen’s many, and most truthful, quotes. Because it is easy to become storyless when a lot is at stake.
There are many who talk about the meeting with Serbia on Thursday night as the most important national match for the Norwegian football masters in 20 years.
At best, this is historyless, even for those who constantly insist that “football is fresh” and forget that forgetfulness is at the same time a frequent phenomenon among people.
But it is understandable that Norwegians, those who love football, so want to see Norway in a playoff for men – 20 years after the brutal end of the European Championships 2000 in Arnhem, the Netherlands.
Nils Johan Semb on his knees, after 0-0 against Slovenia at the same time as Spain beat old Yugoslavia in overtime, is still painful for many. It was a brutal experience. But after three playoffs of the last four, from 1994 to 2000, it was painful to think that the image of Semb would still be the last of Norway in a playoff 20 years later.
But that is still the truth. And therefore every decisive match “since the European Championships 2000” is always the most important.
The truth is that the “most important football match” has been played eight times after the match in Arnhem. And Lars Lagerbäck is the fifth national team manager to get the chance, in the ninth and perhaps tenth attempt since 2000.
Then Norway had a match ball at home against Turkey in the qualification for the European Championship 2008, “the most important match”, took the lead by Erik Hagen, but cracked / fooled out – and lost 2-1. Hareide used Alexander Tettey, 21 years old and with 18 minutes of national team play behind him, as anchor in the middle instead of experienced Vidar Riseth. The move was not a success.
The stunt still hangs at Høgmo, five years later.
And exactly five years later we are there again, now it is Lars Lagerbäck who will try his hand at “the most important international match” for Norway. And if Norway wins against Serbia on Thursday night, another “most important match”, the play-off final against the winner of Scotland and Israel – will take place in November.
Lagerbäck, unlike several of his predecessors, has won such matches. On Wednesday, he wandered around, wide-legged, around Ullevaal Stadium and put out cones – as if he were to lead a training session with his friends at home in Katrineholm. He seems relaxed, as if he has full control.
But then Lars Lagerbäck also has the best Norwegian national team, on paper, at least since Åge Hareide managed John Arne Riise, Brede Hangeland, Morten Gamst Pedersen and John Carew in the mid-2000s.