By Kevin Ashby at the Ullevål
UEFA EURO 2004™ will not be denied the presence of one of the continent's great football nations after Spain produced a tremendously professional performance to defeat Norway 3-0 at the Ullevål stadium and seal their passage to Portugal with a 5-1 aggregate victory.
Unlike Saturday's first leg in Valencia, Iñaki Sáez's side were clinical in their execution on a freezing night in Oslo. The Norwegians rarely threatened and were always on the back-foot after Raúl González scored the only goal of the first half. Strikes in quick succession from Vicente Rodríguez and Joseba Etxeberría after the break allowed Spain to coast to the finals in front of 25,106 spectators.
As expected, César Martín deputised for the suspended Carlos Marchena in Spain's central defence and Vicente was preferred to José Reyes. In attack, youthful exuberance made way for guile as Juan Carlos Valerón replaced Fernando Torres, while Xabi Alonso's selection over Rubén Baraja was a surprise.
The return from injury of Ronny Johnsen allowed him to stand in for Henning Berg in the centre of Norway's defence, with Claus Lundekvam assuming the captaincy from the suspended veteran. Ståle Stensaas, only called up on Monday following an injury to Roar Strand, came in at left-back, allowing John Arne Riise to play a more attacking role wide on the left.
It promised to be an exciting duel down that flank, with Spain's Michel Salgado also no shrinking violet when it comes to breaking free of his defensive shackles. Riise won the early exchanges, powerfully shouldering the Real Madrid CF right-back off the ball in the fourth minute before a promising attack floundered due to lack of numbers. Riise then showed speed and skill to wrong-foot Iván Helguera and unleash a fierce shot from 35 metres which flew over Iker Casillas's goal.
Lack of composure
Not to be outdone, Salgado charged forward and nutmegged Trond Andersen before unselfishly cutting the ball back from the byline to Vicente, who lacked composure from five metres. It was a sign of things to come from Spain as they began to dictate. Sáez's team won three corners in quick succession around the 20-minute mark and threatened from each, notably when Stensaas cleared the ball off the line from a flicked header and first-leg hero Espen Johnsen tipped a Helguera header wide before receiving treatment on his left knee.
In the 34th minute, though, Spain were celebrating going a goal ahead as Valerón nonchalantly touched a pass from César into the path of Raúl who curled the ball at pace beyond Johnsen. The Madrid striker almost doubled his tally before half-time after Carles Puyol's persistence and Vicente's trickery resulted in Raúl drilling an instinctive volley narrowly wide.
Go with the Flos
Norway coach Nils Johan Semb decided to go with the Flos after the interval, introducing the sizeable Håvard to support his cousin, Tore André. Yet it was the unchanged visitors who booked their place in Portugal with an electric start to the second half which saw them increase their aggregate lead to 5-1 within 12 minutes, albeit with a little help from the Norwegians.
First, under pressure from Vicente in the 49th minute, Christer Basma weakly touched a pass to the Valencia CF winger who gleefully slotted it beyond Johnsen with his weaker right foot. In the 57th minute more panic in the home defence resulted in the previously unflappable Johnsen clearing a backpass on to the head of Etxeberría, who was able to watch it sail back over the keeper and into the net.