Norway had not qualified for a major international tournament since the 1938 World Cup, where they’d bowed out to eventual winners Italy in the first round after a 2-1 defeat. They had finished bottom of their five team strong qualification group ahead of both the two previous World Cup tournaments, although they did rarely lose by great margins. In qualification for the two most recent European Championship tournaments, they had indeed also finished propping up their group, so to claim that Norway were challengers for a berth in Italia ’90 would’ve been a bold statement.
In qualification for the 1988 European Championships, Norway had twice suffered defeat against fellow Nordic minnows Iceland, something which must have been a compete humiliation. There had been a positive experience in beating reigning World Cup bronze medalists France 2-0 on home soil in June ’87, but that had been the departing shot for retiring national team manager through more than nine years, Tor Røste Fossen. The succeeding tenureship of Swedish boss Tord Grip was pretty much an ill-fated one, as he gained no victory from seven attempts, and he was subsequently replaced by Norway U21 manager Ingvar Stadheim. It was Stadheim’s task to lead the Norwegian select into the ’90 qualification. Assisting him was 40 year old Anders Fægri, who was a well-reputed man within the Norwegian FA’s corridors, as he was the head of the managers’ union. He’d assisted Nils Arne Eggen at Moss, which was also Fægri’s home town, for their domestic league championship in 1987.
The Norwegian domestic league consisted of part-timers and semi-professionals, and they rarely caused much stir internationally. However, the international team benefitted from having some quite talented and skillful players abroad, even if numbers were far from as great as those of near neighbours Sweden and Denmark, two countries with a considerably greater international pedigree.
Coming into the World Cup qualification ahead of Italia ’90, the Norwegians would probably put their greatest faith in players such as goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, a 25 year old who had not succeeded in claiming a first team berth during a short spell with West German Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach a couple of years earlier. He was currently with Swedish greats IFK Gothenburg. Defensively, they had a lovely prospect in the tall and speedy Rune Bratseth, a player proving his credentials relatively late in his career, albeit at this point he was still only 27. In midfield, there was the skillful Tom Sundby, another 27 year old, who was currently plying his trade in Greek football with Iraklis of Thessaloniki. It seemed likely that the manager would build his team around those three.
The Norwegians had struggled for goals at international level for a long time. 24 goals in 30 qualifiers throughout the 80s should be indication of that exact problem. However, there were some promising signs among the current crop of forwards, where players such as Rosenborg’s Gøran Sørloth, Lillestrøm’s Jan Åge Fjørtoft were beginning to look the part. The greatest promise still was probably with Bundesliga ace Jørn Andersen, who had only just moved from Nuremberg to Eintracht Frankfurt. He had so far not made a great impact on the national team, with just three goals to show for from his 17 appearances.
Domestically, Trondheim club Rosenborg were on course for the league title. The Norwegian season was (and is still) played by the calendar year, and they looked set to follow up their manager Nils Arne Eggen’s surprise title success with Moss the previous year. Eggen was emerging as an exciting manager with attacking ideas, and he was also in charge of the Norwegian Olympic select.
The appointment of Stadheim as manager had happened prior to a 1-1 July friendly with the Brazil Olympic team. The game had perhaps not ended with a win for the Norwegians, but the spectators had finally been treated to some inspirational attacking play, something which had not been the case during Grip’s tenure. Could the 37 year old manager build on that performance and cause an upset or two in the forthcoming qualification? First up would be Scotland on home soil, after another home friendly: against Bulgaria in August.
Friendly: Norway 1-1 Brazil
Line-up: Thorstvedt – Solér, Bratseth, Johnsen, Halle – Løken (Bachke 81), Brandhaug (c), Sundby, Osvold – Sørloth, Fjørtoft (Fjærestad 73)
The newly appointed national team manager, Ingvar Stadheim, would’ve felt uplifted by this draw, albeit against a weakened Brazilian side. They’d gone ahead through Fjørtoft, whilst the central midfield combination of Brandhaug and Sundby had a creative outlook. Denmark based full-back Solér featured for the final time in country colours.
Friendly: Norway 1-1 Bulgaria
Line-up: Thorstvedt – Halle, Bratseth, Johnsen, Giske (c) – Osvold, Brandhaug, Sundby (Løken 49), Jakobsen – Sørloth, Andersen (Fjørtoft 80)
Another draw, but Norway failed to build on Sørloth’s second minute strike, his first at national team level. Halle looking to make the right-back spot his, and the game saw Jakobsen make his debut as the wide left-sided midfielder. Stadheim now had a few weeks to contemplate his selection for the opening World Cup qualifier next month.