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Norway return to the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final tournament for the first time in 15 years this summer when they line up against England, hosts Israel and Italy in Group A.
Having ended such a long wait, the Norwegian camp are understandably on a high. Their 2-1 victory against Russia – who are in the other finals section along with Germany, the Netherlands and holders Spain – in a friendly earlier this month only enhanced the feel-good factor permeating Tor Ole Skullerud's squad.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Skullerud, who stepped up from his role as assistant coach following the departure of Per Joar Hansen to Rosenborg BK at the turn of the year, told UEFA.com. "Israel will be a great experience both for myself and for the players. I'm looking at it as a chance to develop the players and as a great opportunity for our boys to show on an international level what they can do away from Norway."
After finishing runners-up behind England in their qualifying group, Norway surprised France in the play-offs, overturning a 1-0 defeat in Le Havre with a 5-3 second-leg win in Drammen. Eirik Bakke and Steffen Iversen helped the Nordic country to third place in their only previous finals appearance, in Romania in 1998, and while Skullerud would welcome a repeat performance, merely being among Europe's best eight nations is cause for pride.
"I have a dream that we will progress from the group," said Skullerud, 42. "That's an obvious goal for me, and I know it's the same for the players. But first and foremost it's about Norwegian football getting to understand that we now have a generation of players that are good enough to compete against the kind of opposition we'll have in Israel this summer. That's probably the most important thing."
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