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Even at the end of a long season, neither Portugal nor Norway considered giving any quarter in Lisbon on Saturday as they met with leadership of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group H at stake. Certainly Hélder Postiga had no intentions of knocking off early.
The Sporting Clube de Portugal forward cannot have had too many goals cheered at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, but he was the toast of all the capital after his smart 53rd-minute finish proved enough to defeat Egil Olsen's side and send the hosts top of the section, level on points with Denmark and Norway.
The 28-year-old admitted that the closing stages had been tense, however. "
It was difficult as winning a game like this always is, but we showed we knew how to close it out," he said. "Going first is important as we're aiming to qualify automatically."
Postiga praised the visitors for their part in a tight contest, and said he expects Norway to keep Portugal sweating until the end of the campaign. "We played against a very good team, who arrived here as group leaders and showed the quality in their side. Playing a game like this at the end of the season is challenging, but we managed to achieve our objective, which was to win."
Norway's John Arne Riise admitted "a little" disappointment at his side's failure to conjure a result after a disciplined performance. "We had two good chances in the first half which we could have scored from," he said. "And we felt that we imposed our rhythm on the game and we could maybe frustrate them. They scored a cheap goal against us, which was disappointing because we played a good game."
The AS Roma full-back concurred with Postiga that the game's intense physicality had been a factor in its outcome. "We ran a lot in the first half and we started the first ten minutes of the second half a bit slowly," he conceded. "We're a bit disappointed but we did a good job and did everything we could, so we can't really ask for more."
With Portugal, Norway and their Scandinavian neighbours Denmark all now locked on ten points, Riise is aware that each of their remaining three matches will be crucial for the leading trio. "We have to win our home games against Iceland and Cyprus and we have a very important game in Denmark," he said. "Nothing is decided and it's going to be very exciting."
Should Norway advance to Poland and Ukraine, it would be their first major finals appearance since UEFA EURO 2000, and Riise underlined how anxious he and his team-mates are to return to the forefront of the game. "It's very important," he said. "Some of the players have played so many qualification games without playing in a major championship and now we're very close. We have three games left and we probably have to win all of them to be sure."
"It's been a while," agreed his captain Brede Hangeland. "We're a small country, so it would be a great achievement, and something we would all put very high on the list of our careers.
It's very open now and it's still in our hands."
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