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Norway warm to the challenge

Published: Wednesday 19 November 2003, 0.04CET
Victory against Spain in their play-off second leg in Oslo would represent a "great achievement".

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Published: Wednesday 19 November 2003, 0.04CET

Norway warm to the challenge

Victory against Spain in their play-off second leg in Oslo would represent a "great achievement".

By Kevin Ashby in Oslo

Spain may have had 34 shots to Norway's four in the first leg of their UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off on Saturday, but the only statistic which concerns Norwegian midfield player Steffen Iversen is that his side can advance to Portugal with a 1-0 victory in Wednesday's return after he scored a vital away goal in the 2-1 defeat in Valencia.

'Great achievement'
Speaking to on the eve of the Ullevål stadium showdown, Iversen said: "A lot of the Spanish media seemed to think they were going to beat us three, four or five-nil but we proved them wrong over there and I think they're a little bit afraid of us now. For us to beat Spain 1-0 here in Norway would be a great achievement in what is one of the biggest games we will ever play for our country."

Superb Johnsen
Iversen stunned a packed Mestalla at the weekend by opening the scoring in the 14th minute from Norway's first notable attack. Visibly affronted by that strike, Spain levelled through Raúl González and then threw everything at their opponents, only to be continually frustrated by the adhesive-gloved Espen Johnsen. When the goalkeeper was finally beaten for Spain's winning goal in the 85th minute, it was via a touch by one of his own players, defender Henning Berg.

Final match?
Berg had earlier been booked and is now denied an opportunity to win his 100th cap through suspension. The match will definitely be a milestone for Nils Johan Semb, though, as his five-year tenure as coach will come to a premature close with elimination. Should Norway advance, however, he will mastermind their challenge next summer and the Norwegian Football Association can temporarily end their search for a new coach.

Strand out
Semb did not have the air of a condemned man at the pre-match conference. "It is a great opportunity for the players and they are here to take it," he said. "We do not fear the Spanish - we know they have class players all over the pitch but we also know we can beat them." Semb will stick with his favoured 4-5-1 system and will hope Ronny Johnsen is fit to replace Berg after returning to training today. Roar Strand misses out through injury.

Freezing conditions
The Spanish arrived in Oslo on a mild Monday evening but awoke to freezing temperatures and a blanket of snow on their first morning in the capital. "It looks pretty," was Spain coach Iñaki Sáez's take on the view from his hotel room. The weather is not likely to hinder the Latin side, as the Ullevål pitch is warmed to 18 degrees via an undersoil heating system 20 centimetres below what is a soggy but green surface.

Coach confident
Climatic conditions aside, Sáez was totally focused on the job in hand. "We will go out to win no matter what," he said confidently. Sáez is likely to deploy César Martín in place of the suspended Carlos Marchena, a challenge which "excites" the central defender. "It's going to be tough from first minute to last but we will not fail," said César.

Impressive cameo
Spain could also make changes on the wings, with Vicente Rodríguez pushing José Reyes Calderón for a starting berth on the left, and Joaquín Sánchez a probable starter on the opposite flank in place of Joseba Etxeberría following an impressive 12-minute cameo at the Mestalla. Neither side was giving anything away today though; something they will be striving to continue when the talking stops tomorrow.

Last updated: 19/11/03 12.14CET