Norway undergoing a Socceroos-style transformation, reveals Zane

Former Socceroo Clayton Zane believes Norway are still struggling to find a new path in football after the retirement of their own ‘Golden Generation’ – and Australia can take advantage when the two countries clash.

Zane, who made 14 appearances for the green and gold at the turn of the century, knows Norwegian football well. The centre forward spent a roller-coaster three-and-half years with Molde and Lillestrom, where he top-scored in the Eliteserien and was named Striker of the Year in 2001.

The mid-1990s and early 2000s were a golden period for Norway - the tiny European nation qualifed for the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups as well as Euro 2000 under coach Egil Olsen.

With players such as Tore Andre Flo, the Manchester United trio of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Henning Berg and Ronny Johnsen, and later Stefan Iverson, John Arne Riise and John Carew, they reached the round of 16 in France ’98, upsetting Brazil in the group stage, and even were ranked as high as second in the world at one point.

But Norway has failed to replicate that success since and hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in 18 years. Zane has likened it to the difficult evolution Australia was forced to go through after it’s own ‘Golden Generation’ of the 2006 World Cup hung up its boots, and find a different footballing philosophy.

“When I was there they really copied English football, it was a really direct style of play,” the 40-year-old, who landed at Molde from Northern Spirit in 2000, Zane told The World Game.

“Obviously the Premier League has evolved a lot and it’s a very good level now, but when I went up there the English game was a very direct game and based around 4-4-2.

“The Norwegians really modeled themselves off the English game, and I found it a really big change coming from the NSL where there were a lot of ball players, going to a league where the pace and intensity was a lot higher. A lot of duels, so competing for balls in the air.

“It was also a selling league, so if you did well in the Norwegian league you got moved on quickly. So although it was a strong domestic competition, the real talented players got picked up very quickly.

“The national team had just come off some success, in the late 90s they had a really good team. As a result of that, Norwegians were hot property on the transfer market. A lot of players were moving to Germany, France, England etc.

“But since then, the national team now - a lot of players have had very good individual careers at club level but there has been a real decline in the performance of the national team. I’m not really sure of the reason for that, because they produce wonderful individuals that can play at a high level, but for some reason they haven’t made it click.

“They’re probably a little bit like Australia too where they had a ‘Golden Generation’ come through in the late 90s, early 2000s where everything was clicking for the national team. I don’t think it's through a lack of talent, but for whatever reason they haven’t reached the same heights as then.

“People forget they’re a very small nation, around five million people live up there. It’s not a massive country so the national talent pool isn’t as big as other countries on mainland Europe. Maybe people have high expectations just by generations before.

“Even when they had that success they were known for a direct style of play. They had Flo up top and they played very long balls looking for the main striker to flick things on. So it was a really predictable style of play.

“I guess over time teams can be ready for that and are prepared for that. They probably stayed predictable for too long and they’ve had to change and reinvent themselves and they’ve had trouble since.”

The Socceroos and Norway will meet at the Ullevaal Stadion on Saturday (AEDT), in what will be Bert van Marwijk’s first game in charge.

Zane feels Australia will have too much in the tank for the Norwegians, though the local outfit might be helped by the cold and weather forecast of snow.

“I expect the Socceroos to beat a nation like Norway,” the ex-Anderlecht striker, who is now an assistant coach with the Newcastle Jets, said.

“In terms of where they are in their national team set-up, I think we have a little more quality and a little bit more to play for. We’ve got a lot of hungry boys, 23 hungry boys who are all fighting for positions to go to a World Cup.

“I expect the Socceroos to control the game, I expect them to probably win it. But the one leveler is the weather, that can be a massive leveler.

“Players coming from Australia... Some are in Australia going across and compared to the conditions in Oslo, it’s a big leveler. Our position in the world, we’re a team that should be trying to beat the likes of teams that have missed out on the World Cup.

“I believe the Socceroos are as good as those nations, so it’s a game we should win.”

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5 min read
Published 23 March 2018 at 11:14am
By John Davidson