Norway's Steffen Iversen was the hero as he scored the only goal of a hard-fought EURO 2004™ Group 2 qualifier against Romania in rain-soaked Bucharest.
In a game which saw few clear-cut chances, Iversen rose unmarked to head in John Arne Riise's 84th-minute corner to take the honours after both sides struggled to play attractive football on a waterlogged pitch.
Point to prove
Having missed out on a place at the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, both teams looked keen prove a point in front of a boisterous partisan home crowd. Romania, whose qualifying campaign began with a 3-0 away win against Bosnia-Herzgovina, began brightly and should have taken the lead after five minutes.
Mutu goes close
Adrian Mutu was the man who went close, poking his shot narrowly wide of the target following a delightful chipped pass that left a rather static Norwegian rearguard stranded. Two minutes later and it was the hosts' turn to appeal for a penalty after Viorel Moldovan fell under the challenge of André Bergdølmo.
Romania looked the more potent attacking force but Norway's central defensive pairing of Henning Berg and Claus Lundekvam stood firm as Mutu and Viorel Moldovan threatened for Romania. Indeed, only a spectacular sliding tackle by Berg denied Romania a certain goal as he blocked Razvan Rat's low cross with Moldovan and Mutu unmarked on the edge of the five-metre box.
The second half began with Romania on the front foot, and Moldovan's powerful drive was held by Thomas Myhre two minutes after the restart. Having needed a last-minute goal from John Carew to secure a point and a 2-2 draw against Scandinavian neighbours Denmark in their opening Group 2 match, Norway then took the initiative and Ole Gunnar Solskjær saw his angled shot blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Bogdan Vintila in the 53rd minute.
The hosts had another penalty appeal turned down following an apparent handball by a Norwegian defender on 68 minutes, and after a brief lull, Iversen finally broke the deadlock. Riise's teasing corner drifted to the Tottenham Hotspur FC striker and he made no mistake, heading past a helpless Vintila from close range.
With time running out, Iversen wasted two glorious chances to add to his tally and Romania will now regroup and lick their collective wounds ahead of Wednesday's trip to Luxembourg. Norway, on the other hand, will be flying high when they host Bosnia-Herzegovina on the same evening.