Why Norway Didn’t Qualify for Euro 2024

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Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard starred in the Premier League last season, but neither will feature in Europe's biggest football tournament this summer. Here's what happened.

A few days ago, Erling Haaland bagged a hat-trick in a 3-0 friendly win against Kosovo. It was a positive attacking performance, but it left a bitter taste in the mouth of supporters of Norway’s men’s national team.

Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard. Photo: froarn / Shutterstock.com.
Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard will not be playing at Euro 2024. Photo: froarn / Shutterstock.com.

In recent years, the rise of Haaland and Ødegaard to the top of the Premier League has sparked new interest in Norwegian football.

Erling Haaland topped the goalscoring charts two seasons running, while Ødegaard came within a whisker of captaining Arsenal to their first Premier League title in 20 years. Yet it's been 24 years since Norway last played in a major tournament.

So, the question Norwegians and many football fans around Europe are asking themselves is, even with the expansion of Euro 2024, how did Norway once again fail to qualify for a major tournament?

It's a head scratcher for sure. But let's try to figure out what has gone wrong, and if we can expect something different from the upcoming qualification campaign for the 2026 World Cup.

A Disastrous Qualification Campaign

With the expansion of Euro 2024 from 16 to 24 teams, many people expected this to be the year that Norway would end their major tournament absence. The draw, while not easy, wasn't as difficult as it could have been.

The problem was that Norway found themselves on the back foot from the word go. A comprehensive 3-0 defeat in Spain in the opening game wasn't a disaster with Spain strong favourites to win the group.

Norway national team photo. Photo: froarn / Shutterstock.com.
Norway national team during the unsuccessful qualifying campaign for Euro 2024. Photo: froarn / Shutterstock.com.

However, a few days later Norway dropped more points by only managing a 1-1 draw in Georgia. Picking up just one point from the opening games meant Norway were playing catch-up for the rest of the tournament.

The real kicker though came in the third match. A must-win game at home to Scotland seemed to be going well, an Erling Haaland penalty giving Norway the lead.

With a few minutes to go in the Oslo sunshine, Norway seemed well set to push on in the qualification campaign. But two quick-fire Scotland goals in the last couple of minutes turned three points into none in the blink of an eye.

Despite a string of wins in the following games, it was too little too late, and Norway's inevitable failure to qualify was confirmed with a 1-0 home defeat by Spain.

National team manager Ståle Solbakken said it's “agony” when he thinks about Euro 2024 taking place without Norway, and that he fully understands that Norway's absence is being discussed.

“I don't find that surprising. We have players like Martin and Erling, who dominate international news day in and day out. They are players that the press and football fans in other countries would want to see in a final tournament,” he said to NRK.

Norwegian Players Starring in European Leagues

Previously, I would've said the issue is simple. A team needs more than two superstars to function as a team. But right now the Norwegian national team has, arguably, more talent than in decades.

Julian Ryerson recently played in the Champions League final for Dortmund. Alexander Sørloth almost became top scorer in La Liga this season, and scored four goals in one game against the Champions, Real Madrid.

Oscar Bobb playing for Manchester City. Photo: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com.
Oscar Bobb playing for Manchester City. Photo: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com.

Jørgen Strand Larsen has also scored goals in La Liga, while goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland is a regular for Sevilla. Then there's Oscar Bobb and Antonio Nusa, considered two of Europe's most promising talents.

The Balance Isn’t There

The friendly win against Kosovo was so frustrating for Norway fans largely because of Haaland’s hat-trick.

The big Norwegian has been accused of ‘going missing’ when it matters most, something that has also haunted his time at Manchester City, despite his goalscoring records.

Lars Lagerbäck coached the Norwegian national team from 2017 to 2020, before Solbakken took over. Lagerbäck told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet he thought Norway would do significantly better.

Although many criticise Norway’s goalscorers, Lägerback said the problem is too often in defence rather than scoring goals: “Solbakken must try to find a better balance than he has so far.”

Although many of Norway’s forward-minded players are household names across Europe, few would be able to name any of the defenders.

“It doesn't help if you concede more goals than you score. Then you win no football matches, it's as simple as that,” added Lagerbäck.

Will Solbakken Turn to Norway's Youth?

The line-up against Kosovo was the youngest Ståle Solbakken has fielded during his time as national team coach, with an average age of 25.5 years. NRK expert Carl-Erik Torp said it was “a fantastic attack, built on the future of Norwegian football.”

One of the talented young crop of players, Antonio Nusa is optimistic about the future following his short stint with the national team so far: “What I've seen is a team that is very exciting, with lots of potential and really wants to move forward.”

However, this doesn’t solve Norway’s defensive problems and inability to hold on to leads.

Solbakken has some time to prepare before the qualifying campaign for the next World Cup begins, however, assuming he remains in the post.

Norway will face Austria, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia in the 2024-25 Nations League. Qualifying for the 2026 World Cup begins in March, 2025.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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