As June began the idea that Norway were on course to reach UEFA EURO 2008™ would have seemed far-fetched. In March they had lost at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina and conceded two late goals to draw against Turkey in Frankfurt and were well adrift of second-placed Greece in Group C. But when the title holders come to Oslo on Wednesday, Norway know victory would take them top of the section.
Things started to turn around in June with consecutive 4-0 wins against Malta and Hungary. Argentina were defeated 2-1 in an August friendly, and on Saturday Norway came away from Moldova with a 1-0 victory that lifted them above Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina into a qualifying position, just two points behind leaders Greece.
Of course, none of their recent wins have been against rivals for a place in the finals like Greece or their following two opponents Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey, and coach Åge Hareide is expecting a tougher test on Wednesday. "It will be difficult," he said. "I expect Greece to come to Norway with a well-organised defence. But I feel we now are up to the task."
The magnitude of the game was clear in the usually frank Hareide's response when asked about his plans for midweek. "I won't answer any more questions regarding tactics and selection of the team ahead of the Greece game," he said. "[Greece coach] Otto Rehhagel will not get any information that he can use."
Not only has goalkeeper Håkon Opdal kept three consecutive competitive clean sheets since replacing Thomas Myhre following his nightmare against Turkey, but other players have hit top form. John Carew has struck four goals in four games, including both against Argentina, and the Aston Villa FC forward has blossomed as a team player. Meanwhile, FC København centre-back Brede Hangeland, himself tracked by Premier League clubs, has matured into a commanding defender and a first final tournament since 2000 is now a distinct possibility.
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