The Norwegian national football team, controlled by the Norwegian Football Association, is the national football team of Norway. The team played its first international in 1908. Its home ground is Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo, which seats 25,572 spectators.
Norway had their most successful period from 1990 to 1998 under the legendary coach Egil Roger Olsen. Together with a rising quality in Norwegian players, Olsen is given much of the credit for taking Norway's national team from obscurity and turning them into a dreaded opponent, respected around the world . At its height in the mid-90's the team was even ranked second on the FIFA World Rankings. Olsen started his training career with Norway with a 6-1 home victory against Cameroon October 31 1990 and ended it on June 27 1998 after a 0-1 defeat against Italy in the second stage of the 1998 World Cup.
In the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Norway was knocked out at the group stage after a win against Mexico, a defeat against Italy and a draw against the Republic of Ireland. In France 1998, Norway was eliminated by Italy in the first round of the knock out stage after finishing second in their group, having drawn against Morocco and Scotland and won 2-1 against Brazil. During the 1998 World Cup tournament Norway received some criticism, claiming their somewhat defensive tactics ruined the fun of the game .
The former U-21 coach Nils Johan Semb replaced Olsen after the planned retirement of the latter, but did not manage to achieve the same results as Olsen. He was replaced by Rosenborg coach Åge Hareide at the end of 2003.
Some of Norway's best single results are: Norway-Brazil 2-1 on June 23, 1998 in the World Cup group stage, and Norway-Brazil 4-2 on May 30, 1997. In fact, Norway is the only team in the world who has played Brazil and never lost, winning two matches and drawing on two other occasions.
The match started off good for the Norwegians. Within the first minute, Minotti Bøhn scored the first goal of the game. It went downhill from there. Bøhn did add a second goal, and Hans Endrerud also put his name on the scoresheet. Nevertheless, when the referee blew the final whistle, Sweden had won by a score of 11-3.
It would take two years until the next time a Norwegian national side was put together. Once again, the Swedes were the opposition, and this time it was the Norwegians who held the home-field advantage. It was, however, the Swedes who won the match. This time, the final score was 4-0. Norway also went home with two straight defeats when they participated in the Stockholm Olympics of 1912. The opponents were Denmark and Austria.
Overall, the period between 1908 and 1917 is a sorry chapter in the Norwegian national team's history. In those nine years, Norway failed to win a single game. Rock bottom was reached on October 7, 1917 when Norway were routed 12-0 against Denmark. To this date, this is Norway's heaviest ever defeat.
Norway's biggest star in the 1920s was unquestionably Einar "Jeja" Gundersen, who scored a total of 26 international goals between 1917 and 1928. Other stars at the time were team captain Gunnar Andersen (Lyn), Per Skou (Lyn and Odd) and Asbjørn Halvorsen (Sarpsborg). These players formed the core of the side that participated in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, where Norway got their greatest win to that date.
In the opening match of the Olympic tournament, Norway faced pre-tournament favorites England. It may have been an amateur side, but England was nevertheless the home of football, and the team was expected to ease past Norway. It is said that Gunnar Andersen was the first to show that the English players were not supermen, by dribbling past several players. His confidence passed on to the other Norwegian players, and when the smoke cleared, Norway had won 3-1 courtesy of two goals by "Jeja" Gundersen and one goal by Einar Wilhelms.
In the next round, Norway faced Czechoslovakia, but there was to be no repeat of the sensational win against England. The Czechoslovakians won the game 4-0.
Norway claimed a few more scalps in the following years, including a 2-0 win against France in Paris in 1923, as well as a few more wins against arch-rivals Sweden. However, in the latter half of the 1920s, the golden era was over. Between 1924 and 1928, Norway won only four matches – all of them against Finland.
The bad spell began to end near the turn of the decade, largely thanks to new star players like goalkeeper Henry "Tippen" Johansen and striker Jørgen Juve, who is Norway's all-time leading scorer on international level with 33 goals. On June 23, 1929, Juve scored twice as Norway defeated Denmark by a score of 5-2 in Copenhagen. It was Norway's first-ever away win against Denmark.
When Halvorsen returned from Germany, he was hired as general secretary of the NFF, and thus also became chairman of the national team's selection committee. At the time, team selection was handled by the selection committee, while the coach's sole responsibility was training the players the selection committee had picked. However, Halvorsen also named himself team coach, and thus became Norway's first "modern" national team manager.
Norway had gotten several good results leading up to the Berlin Olympics, including wins against Austria and Hungary. Even so, few people believed Norway would stand a chance in the Olympic tournament, especially since they were scheduled to face the host nation in the second round (if they could get past Turkey in the opener). The match against Turkey went easier than expected, as Norway won 4-0. The next match was against the Germans, who had demolished Luxembourg 9-0 in their opener. It is said that the Norwegians were so sure of defeat that they had booked return tickets to Norway two days after the Germany game. If this is true, the travel arrangements would have had to be altered.
In front of a capacity crowd that included Hitler and Goebbels, Norway got a fully-deserved 2-0 win against the hosts. Both goals were scored by Magnar Isaksen, and the win meant that Germany were knocked out and Norway advanced to the semi-finals, where they faced Italy. The match against Italy was a closely-contested one, but the Italians eventually won the game 2-1 after extra time. Arne Brustad scored the Norwegian goal. Next up was the third-place match against Poland, where Brustad scored a hat-trick and guided Norway to a 3-2 victory. Norway had won the bronze medals, and Brustad was hailed as one of the best players of the tournament.
Two years later, Norway took part in their first-ever World Cup. Norway had qualified after defeating the Republic of Ireland by an aggregate score of 6-5. Reidar Kvammen was the big hero, having scored twice in both matches. The 1938 World Cup was a straight knockout tournament, and in the opening round, Norway were drawn against defending world champions Italy.
The match, which was played in Marseille, was very tight and exciting. Italy took an early lead, but Norway equalised seven minuted before the final whistle, when Brustad ran past the entire Italian defence and slotted the ball past the keeper. A few minutes later, everyone believed that Brustad had added his second, but this goal was disallowed because of a highly disputed offside call. So, just like in the Olympic tournament two years earlier, the game went to extra time – and once again, the Italians came out on top thanks to a goal by Silvio Piola. And just like in the 1936 Olympics, Italy went on to win the entire tournament. There was a small consolation for Brustad later that year, when he was picked in the "Rest of Europe XI" that played against England at Wembley.
Many of the old heroes were in the side that faced Sweden that day. Brustad, Øivind Holmsen and Alf "Kaka" Martinsen had played for the "Bronze Team", while Kristian Henriksen, Knut Brynildsen and Rolf Johannessen had played in the 1938 World Cup. However, six years is a long time in football, and the Swedes, who had not been involved in the war, had a great side in the making, and won the game by a score of 10-0. When Sweden scored their ninth goal, team joker Kristian Henriksen reportedly told his teammates, "OK lads, lets go for a draw". The Bronze Age was over.
Eventually, new players were added to the team towards the end of the 1940s. Two of the biggest names were striker Gunnar Thoresen and defender Thorbjørn Svenssen, who was nicknamed "Klippen" ("The Rock"). Also, Bronze Team hero Reidar Kvammen still had some skills remaining in his feet and became the first Norwegian to reach 50 caps in 1948. Although the team was nowhere near the levels of the pre-war side, they did notch up a few big wins. In 1946, Finland were routed by a score of 12-0, and two years later, Norway won 11-0 against the United States in a match where Odd Wang Sørensen scored five goals – which to this day is the team record for most goals scored by one player in a single game.
In 1949, an 18-year-old inside-forward from Ørn Horten named Per Bredesen made his international debut. He scored in his debut and received rave reviews. Norway had uncovered a new star, and as Norway entered the 1950s, people believed Norway had a new great side in the making. Unfortunately, young Bredesen's national team career was short-lived. In 1952, Bredesen was signed a professional contract with Italian giants Lazio – and according to the NFF's self-imposed amateur rules, he was banished from the national team. In an age where most countries in western Europe had introduced professional football, the old amateur ideals of the 19th century were still the rule in Norway.
Thorbjørn Svenssen remained a mainstay in Norway's central defence throughout the decade, and when he finally bowed down in 1962, he had played an amazing 104 full internationals. At the time, he was only the second footballer in history to reach a century of caps (the first was England captain Billy Wright. Another national team star at the time was striker Harald Hennum. His 25 international goals is a post-war record.
Nobody knows what Norway might have achieved if Per Bredesen had been available, but the amateur rules were still in force, even though they were somewhat relaxed in 1960 to allow another Italian exile, Ragnar Larsen, who had recently returned home, to once again play for his country.
In 1959, Norway finished the year with four straight defeats and 22 conceded goals. Even Iceland proved too strong this year, winning 1-0 in Reykjavík.
There was little improvement to be found in the results column, but once in a while, Norway pulled off a shock result. They won against Sweden and Holland in 1962, and defeated Scotland by a score of 4-3 in 1963. However, this fine win was followed by a 9-0 defeat against Poland, just to confirm that despite the occasional victory, Norway were still among the bottom-feeders of European football.
In the 1966 World Cup qualifiers, Norway emerged as serious contenders for qualification for the first time in three decades. Though the home-based amateur only rule was retained, Norway boasted a promising side including Finn Seemann, Harald Berg, Olav Nilsen and Egil Olsen. All told, they finished runners up behind France with 7 points (3 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats) with two narrow defeats to France proving costly.
One of Norway's most shocking results in the 1960s was the victory against Yugoslavia in a 1965 World Cup qualifier. The Yugoslavs had finished second in the European Championship a few years earlier, and was rated as one of the continent's top sides – but they had to travel home from Ullevaal with a 3-0 defeat in their bags thanks to goals from Finn Seemann, Odd Iversen and the new star player from northern Norway, Harald "Dutte" Berg. Norway also played well against France in this qualifying campaign, but both matches ended with narrow defeats. This was nevertheless the closest Norway had come to reaching a major tournament since the glory days of the 1930s.
Norway once again faced France in the qualifying tournament for the 1970 World Cup. The home match ended with a rather predictable 3-1 defeat, but in the return leg in Strasbourg, Norway pulled off another shock result and won the game 1-0. Odd Iversen scored the only goal of the game.
Among the other notable facts, it might be mentioned that Fredrikstad defender Roar Johansen played 54 consecutive internationals between 1960 and 1967. Not even Thorbjørn Svenssen managed a streak like that. Another piece of trivia was that goalkeeper Kjell Kaspersen scored on a penalty in the 7-0 friendly win against Thailand in 1965. This makes Kaspersen the only goalkeeper to have scored for the Norwegian national side.
However, the rule change did not improve the results. If anything, the national team's results in the early 1970s got even worse. During the Euro 72 qualifying campaign, Norway picked up only one point in six games, and in a 1972 World Cup qualifier against Holland, Norway lost 9-0. The next year, they suffered a perhaps even more humiliating result by losing against Luxembourg.
There were, however, a few bright spots. A new star emerged in the form of Tom Lund, who made his international debut in 1971. A playmaker in the Johan Cruyff mold, "Tommy" was without question a great player. Many consider him to be the Norway's finest player ever, but even he couldn't carry the team on his own, and Norway continued to finish last in their World Cup and European Championship qualifying groups.
In the late 1970s, however, there were signs of improvement. Guided by Tom Lund and new head coach Tor Røste Fossen, Norway defeated both Sweden and Switzerland in the qualifying campaign for the 1978 World Cup. The win against Sweden was somewhat marred by Svein Grøndalen's vicious tackle that left Swedish star player Ralf Edström, but when Norway played their last World Cup qualifier away against Switzerland, they still had a theoretical chance of reaching the finals. However, the game ended with a 1-0 defeat, and Norway once again had to stay home.
In addition to the "A" team, Norway also fielded an Olympic side in the late 1970s. To play for the Olympic side, you had to be an amateur, and not played any World Cup qualifiers. The Olympic side was, in other words, a "B" side, but their matches are nonetheless regarded as full internationals by the NFF (but not recognized by FIFA). The Olympic team got quite good results, and in 1979, they qualified for the Moscow Games after beating Finland and West Germany's amateur side in the qualifiers. Arne Larsen Økland became the hero with the winning goal against the Germans. Incidentally, Økland became a professional in the Bundesliga shortly afterwards.
The Olympic side never got the chance to play in the Olympics, because Norway boycotted the games along with the United States and most of the Western European countries as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Narrow defeats against Hungary and Romania in the spring of 1981 ensured that Norway once again failed to reach the World Cup finals, but they still had pride to play for when England entered Ullevaal on September 9, 1981. Norway's previous five encounters against England's full-time pros had all ended with heavy defeats and a combined goal difference of 2-24. Few people believed that trend was about to end that day. The most optimistic pundits hoped for a narrow defeat. In this game, Norway had Tom Lund and the new star Hallvar Thoresen back in the side. Both had missed the match at Wembley the year before.
The match started badly for Norway. England got off to an early lead through Bryan Robson, but Norway clawed their way back into the game, and midway through the first half, Norway got an equaliser from a Tom Lund cross. The goal was awarded to Roger Albertsen, but television replays have later shown that Albertsen did in fact not touch the ball, and Lund's cross went straight into the net. When Hallvar Thoresen added a second shortly before half time, the shock was in the making. Despite a heavy English pressure in the second half, Norway held on, and had achieved (in the eyes of the Norwegian media) their greatest result ever. It was after this game that radio commentator Bjørge Lillelien gave his famous "Your boys took a hell of a beating" routine.
Led by Tom Lund, Norway had a fairly good team in the early 1980s. In 1982, Norway beat Yugoslavia 3-1 in a Euro 84 qualifier with goals by Lund, Økland and current national team boss Åge Hareide. At the halfway mark, Norway looked to have a good chance of reaching the European Championship. However, Tom Lund retired at the end of the 1982 season, and without their playmaker, Norway was once again a mediocrity and gained only one point in the remaining Euro qualifiers, and once again finished last in the group.
The Olympic team was also put back together, this time to qualify for the Los Angeles Olympics. Norway only finished third in the group, behind Poland and the GDR – but when the Eastern Bloc later decided to boycott the 1984 Olympics, Norway were handed the vacant spot. In the finals, Norway gave a pretty good performance. The opening game against Chile finished goalless, and the second game against France finished with a narrow defeat, which meant that the 2-0 victory in the final game against Qatar was to no avail. Norway were knocked out in the group stage. On the bright side, the Olympic team included several players who would become mainstays in the "A" team in the following years, such as Per Egil Ahlsen, Terje Kojedal, Tom Sundby and last but not least goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt.
The team got a few more scalps in the mid-1980s. In 1985, Norway won 2-1 away against defending world champions Italy, and the next spring, future world champions Argentina were defeated 1-0 at Ullevaal. However, both these matches were friendlies, and in the games that really mattered, Norway were still also-rans. A few weeks after the win against Italy, Norway lost 5-1 at home to Denmark in a World Cup qualifier. In short, Norway in the 1980s was a team that could beat anyone on a given day, but they could also lose against anyone on a given day – and there were a lot more bad days than good days.
In terms of individual players, Norway in the early 1990s was probably not the best team in their history. Only defender Rune Bratseth and goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt were regarded as true stars on the international level. These two formed the backbone of a side that otherwise included youngsters like Øyvind Leonhardsen, Stig Inge Bjørnebye, Lars Bohinen and Erik Mykland.
The first indication that Norway had a great team in the making came in the Euro qualifier against Italy on June 5, 1991, where goals from Bohinen and Tore André Dahlum led the side to a 2-1 win. Earlier that night, the Norwegian U21 side had defeated the Italian youngsters 6-0. Norway failed to reach the European Championship finals, but they remained in contention until the very last game, and finished a respectable third behind Soviet Union and Italy.
Towards the end of the Euro qualifiers, Olsen recalled former youth prodigy Kjetil Rekdal, who had been out of the national team for more than two years after a failed spell in the Bundesliga. As the midfield anchorman, Rekdal would become one of the team's most important players throughout the 1990s.
In the qualifying tournament for the 1994 World Cup, Norway were drawn in the same group as England, Holland and Poland. Getting to the World Cup from this group was impossible, according to the pundits – but Olsen had other ideas. The qualifying campaign got off to a great start with a 10-0 win against minnows San Marino. This match was followed by a surprising win against Holland, and when Norway managed a draw in the away game against England through Kjetil Rekdal's 35-yard screamer, the Norwegian public were starting to believe that the national team might actually reach the finals.
The road to the World Cup continued in 1993, when Norway won 3-1 against Turkey, followed by a great 2-0 win against England and a somewhat fortunate goalless draw against Holland in Rotterdam. The World Cup tickets were secured on October 13, when Norway defeated Poland by 3-0 in Poznań after goals by Jostein Flo, Jan Åge Fjørtoft and Ronny Johnsen. Norway had reached the World Cup finals for the first time since 1938. In October 1993, Norway had managed the amazing feat of being ranked the second best team in the world (behind Brazil) on the FIFA World Rankings.
The finals were somewhat of a disappointment for the Norwegian team. The tournament got off to a fine start with a win against Mexico in a match that won't go down in history as a classic. Substitute Kjetil Rekdal scored a late winner. This match was followed by a 0-1, 11-10 men defeat against Italy, and after two games, all four teams in the group had collected three points. This meant that Norway would progress to the next round with a win against the Republic of Ireland. They would also progress with a draw if the match between Italy and Mexico got a winner. The match against Ireland ended in a disappointing goalless draw – and since the Italy v Mexico game also ended with a draw, Norway were knocked out by the slimmest of margins.
Next up was the Euro 96 qualifiers. Norway looked like qualifying through most of the campaign, but stumbled in the last two games against the Czech Republic and Holland, and were knocked out. At this point, Bratseth and Thorstvedt had both retired and been replaced with Henning Berg and Frode Grodås respectively. Two other new faces in the qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup were young strikers Tore André Flo and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Solskjær scored twice in the 5-0 win against Azerbaijan, and was later signed by Manchester United F.C.. Flo got his breakthrough on the international stage when he scored twice in the 4-2 friendly win against Brazil at Ullevaal. Norway clinched the World Cup spot with a 4-0 win against Finland two rounds before the end of the qualifying campaign.
Just like 60 years earlier, Norway had reached a World Cup played in France. History would repeat itself in more ways. Just like in the last World Cup, Norway were unimpressive in the opening matches. The first two matches against Morocco and Scotland ended with draws, which meant that Norway faced the difficult task of beating Brazil if they were to advance to the second round.
"June 23, 1998" and Marseille will always be remembered as the date and venue of one of Norway's greatest victories. Brazil did have most of the attacking play, and when Bebeto gave the Brazilians the lead after 78 minutes, it looked like Norway were heading for another early exit. However, a few minutes, Tore André Flo got an equalizer, and when Flo was obstructed in the area two minutes before the final whistle, Norway got a penalty. Kjetil Rekdal fired the penalty into the back of the net. Norway had come from behind to win against Brazil, and advanced to the second round – once again in Marseille, and once again against Italy.
The match against the Italians was a disappointing performance from the Norwegians. Italy got an early lead through Christian Vieri, and Norway rarely threatened the solid Italian defence – and just like in 1938, Norway were knocked out of the World Cup by Italy. After the tournament, Egil Olsen stepped down as national team coach and was replaced by his assistant Nils Johan Semb.
In what must be described as an awful match, the game between Norway and Slovenia ended goalless. In the other match, Yugoslavia had a 3-2 lead after 90 minutes, which would be enough for Norway to advance. However, when Spain scored twice in stoppage time to win the game, Norway were knocked out. After the tournament, Semb had to suffer a lot of criticism for his tactics.
A slow start to the 2002 World Cup qualifiers did not stop the criticism. After five games, Norway had gained only two points, and after a decade of glory, it became clear that Norway would not reach the finals in Korea and Japan. Norway did finish the qualifying campaign with three straight wins, but it was too little, too late.
Despite the ever-increasing criticism, Semb remained in charge for the Euro 2004 qualifiers, where Norway eventually finished second behind Denmark, and faced a two-leg playoff against Spain. In the away leg, Norway got a respectable 2-1 defeat, which provided some cautious optimism before the return leg at Ullevaal. However, the return leg was a nightmare for the Norwegians. Spain dominated the game completely and won 3-0. After this match, Semb resigned.
Norway's next national coach became former national team hero Åge Hareide, who was hired in January 2004, having coached Rosenborg BK to the domestic league title the previous season. The team, which was dubbed "New Norway", won their first six games, although it must be said that many of these games were against second-rate opposition. In the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, results have been varying – ranging from an impressive 3-0 win against Slovenia to a disappointing home defeat against Scotland. Norway eventually finished second behind Italy, and played the Czech Republic in a playoff to reach the finals. In the first playoff match the Czech Republic won 1-0 in Oslo. Norway lost the match in Prague November 16, 2005 0-1, thus failing to make it to the 2006 World Cup.
A successful start to the Euro 2008 qualifiers followed, breaking a run of eight games without victory, as Norway won 4-1 in Hungary, their largest away win in a qualifier since October 2001, after a string of "amateurish mistakes" by the hosts. It was followed by another victory, against Moldova, but after that, Norway scored only one point in the next three qualifying matches. The team improved with two home ground 4-0 wins in a row (against Hungary and Malta). They also showed great shape by beating Argentina 2-1 in a friendly match at Ullevål. Then they got a 1-0 victory in Moldova before drawing 2-2 with Greece, in a match Norway had the upper hand. Norway then played away to Bosnia and Hercegovina, winning 2-0 without really impressing. This gave Norway a very good chance of qualification if they won their following game against Turkey. However, Norway lost 1-2 after a poor performance, and were eliminated in the final round of qualification, with Turkey securing their place with a victory against Bosnia and Hercegovina.
The Norwegian NFF unvelived a new crest in May 2008. The new crest is a Viking style Dragon wrapped around the NFF logo. The designer that was responsible for the new crest is "Recommended Norway", though Peter Horridge is the one who drew up the badge. Horridge is the same man behind the logos for Liverpool, the Premier League, and the England national team badge.
The Norwegians have used the national flag as their badge since the 1920s and a great deal of pride and history is behind it, leading to controversy over the new emblem. The Norwegian NFF is looking to take Norway into a "new chapter" by reinvinting the badge. "We have long looked at how other nations have used their own identity within the symbols of their national teams, and assessed whether this could be an option for our national teams. Now, we believe that the time is right, and we are brilliant satisfied with the result, "said Karen Espelund, secretary general of the Norwegian Football Association.
" The challenge was to find an emblem that best can create a new identity to the Norwegian football and at the same time safeguard the Norwegian heritage and history." The new emblem has a heraldisk background, and take inspiration from Viking times. It is immediately recognizable as Norwegian and is communicating strength, control and performance, "says senior designer Bjørn Høydal.
The Norwegians complained about the new design and the NFF decided to reconsider the badge. May 23rd, 2008 the new crest was dropped and the NFF said it has decided to design a new crest that would incorporate the Norwegian flag. Until this new design is complete the Norwegian team will play with the national flag for their badge.
“The engagement [between the Norwegians and the Norway national team] shows that the national teams are important flag-bearers for the Norwegian people, and there are many people who are not pleased with the new emblem and want the flag back on the shirts, so it’s something we have to take seriously. I can promise that the contributions will be taken into account in the further process to shape a unique identity for Norwegian international football” - Sondre Kfjord, President of the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF)
Though the new badge is no longer in use, it is still available on the jerseys in the NFF online store.
Most capped players