Journalist Esten Sæther has turned coach for Norway's new futsal team and after a spectacular bow in the preliminary round he hopes his innovative approach can continue to pay dividends.
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Norway are flying high in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with three wins out of three and the country's new futsal team are looking to emulate the footballers in Romania this week.
Esten Sæther's side made a spectacular debut in the sport in last month's UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 preliminary round, beating Israel 7-3, the Republic of Ireland 5-0 and Andorra 7-3 in Dublin. Sæther employed an innovative man-to-man tactical approach but as he prepares for a much tougher qualifying round task − starting on Thursday against 2010 bronze medallists the Czech Republic, hosts Romania and Slovakia − the coach believes progress is down to his players.
"The system can take some of the credit, but most of the success was founded in the way the boys played," said Sæther, a long-time sportswriter for Dagbladet newspaper. "It was almost unbelievable how the side played to their top level throughout the matches. I was really impressed with how focused and dedicated they were."
However, Sæther's strategy certainly gave Norway an edge, making them as hard to break down as their football squad has been of late. "Andorra, for example, had trouble coping when they had the ball," he said. "They had to use their goalkeeper more or less as an outfield player when in possession, which was an advantage for us. For example, goalkeeper Magnar Nordtun scored our last goal against Andorra into an open net."
Nordtun, once a footballer with Viking FK, has proved a key player along with captain Thomas Sæther – unrelated to the coach – who anchors the team with his tackling and distribution. The joker in the pack is Cato Valøy, who did not play in the first two games last month but then weighed in with a hat-trick against Andorra. "Valøy is extremely quick, and has an eye for goal," the coach said. "His hat-trick proved that we picked the right squad that time."
This month's squad includes six players from champions KFUM Futsal Oslo, who made their UEFA Futsal Cup debut this season and departed unbeaten on goal difference behind KMF Zelezarec Skopje. Avoiding defeat will be far from easy in Romania, though.
"Our results so far prove that we are at a high European level, but we know these matches will be difficult," Sæther said. "Romania have played 22 matches in the last year and are more experienced than us, the Czechs took bronze at the last EURO, while Slovakia have had some impressive results this year. Our goal is to take some points and test our system against some of the best futsal teams in Europe."