It seems fair to say that nobody has made a bigger effort to be at this UEFA European Under-21 Championship than Håvard Nordtveit. This is the man, after all, who less than 24 hours after playing 90 minutes for Norway's senior team in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Albania was stepping on to the pitch in Petah Tikva for the final seven minutes of the Group A victory against England.
Nordtveit was one of the quartet of senior players brought to Israel by charter plane from Tirana – along with Valon Berisha, Markus Henriksen and Joshua King – but the 22-year-old was alone in needing a police outrider to reach the airport after being delayed by a doping control.
"The 12 hours after the game in Albania were quite stressful," he recounted with a smile. "I needed to go to doping control straight after the game and I was struggling to get some liquid out. I got a special car with the police in front and the blue lights. When I reached the charter flight it was 12.30 and we were in the hotel in Tel Aviv at around half five. I got four hours' sleep, from six o'clock to ten, and that's not normally enough for the 90 minutes, so ten minutes [on the pitch] was OK. Normally I go a little bit higher at headers but yesterday it was harder."
He may have felt a little heavy-legged but it was certainly worth the trouble. Nordtveit, speaking to UEFA.com at a Norwegian embassy function at a beach bar in Herzliya on Sunday, underlined just how happy he was to be here, taking part in his first major tournament. "It's been a very long qualification, I've never reached a final tournament before and I always wanted to be a part of it and now I am here," he said.
"I played over 50 games last year in the Bundesliga and national team but we also get a little bit of recovery staying on the beach in Israel and taking it a little bit easy here instead of sitting in Norway all day long. For me it was not a doubt to come here and support the group and also help reach our goal – which is to go as far as we can and maybe win the whole European Championship."
Nordtveit – once a youth player at Arsenal FC, now thriving in central midfield for VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach – felt Norway were not at their best against England, despite the 3-1 scoreline. Yet, as he notes, their desire was overwhelming. "After the [second goal] most of the air was blown out of the players from England. It is always hard to come from 2-0 down, [especially] when there's such big pressure from all the media in England. It was not easy to beat Norway on such a day as yesterday. We didn't play so well – when we got the ball we lost it too quickly – but in the end we fought for each other and that just showed the morale in the team.
"All through qualifying we've been together and that makes us quite strong," he added. "We've known each other from Under-17 and have been working hard since then to reach a final like this. We're really looking forward to the next game and hopefully can push even harder like we did yesterday."
Nordtveit is confident the squad will benefit from the arrival of their four reinforcements, especially given the hot conditions – "many of the players suffered from cramp [so] we need all the men on the bench". First, though, they must come back down to earth in time for Tuesday's final group fixture with Italy, when they need only a point to guarantee progress to the semi-finals.
"Now we are a bit high after beating England – one year ago they were ranked No1 – but we need to come down to earth again and be prepared for the next game which will be hard." That said, the man who flew in from Tirana a day ago thinks the sky really is the limit for this Norway side. "In 1998 we finished third. Nothing is impossible."
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