Euro 2004 qualifier
Norway 0 - Spain 3
Norway: Espen Johnsen
(Frode Olsen 61'); Basma, Lundekvam, Ronnie Johnson, Steensaas; Solli, Trond
Andersen (Havard Flo 46'), Martín Andresen (Frode Johnson 73'), Riise;
Iversen, Flo. 4-4-2.
Spain are through to the Euro 2004 finals! Iñaki Sáez's side will be one of the 16 sides competing in Portugal after a comfortable 0-3 win in Norway. There was consternation before the game that "la selección" could be knocked out after a narrow 2-1 win in the first leg in Valencia, and Sáez's announcement of the side 24 hours before kick off caused all sorts of comments. No Baraja, no Joaquín, no Reyes, and although everybody wanted to see Valerón, the manager's insistence on playing a 4-2-3-1 formation whatever the cost meant that Raúl had to play up front somewhat out of position and Fernando Torres was left on the bench. The only change which wasn't criticised was César for Marchena in defence, that being due to the one match ban on the Valencia defender.
But Raúl was once again to prove his side's saviour, and those who saw the look on his face during the playing of the national anthem knew what was coming. Some of the players were tra-la-lalling the tune, others were trying to spot the best looking blondes in the crowd, but the team captain was staring into the sky, his jaws clenched and a look of grim determination on his countenance. And although it took some time coming before Valerón finally found the gap late in the first half to send him away, he didn't miss the target as others had done in the first leg, driving a shot wide of Espen Johnsen to make Norway's task almost impossible.
Up to that point the game had been a carbon copy of the first leg, with Spain having most of the possession but unable to get past a keeper who had been the outstanding player in the first leg. But an unfortunate accident to Johnsen midway through the first half left him limping with a twisted ankle, and although he stayed on the pitch for another half an hour, he was in obvious discomfort. Norway had been fairly absent up to that point, but the injury seemed to spark them into activity and Tore Andre Flo caused some problems for Casillas before Raúl struck.
After the goal the shoulders of the Scandinavian players slumped in unison, and Raúl and Etxeberría both went close to adding to the lead before half time. But nobody was expecting them to give up as easily as they did in the first ten minutes of the second half, when two dreadful defensive mistakes by the defence effectively put an end to the match. First of all it was Basma who failed to control the ball and left it at the feet of Vicente for him to find the back of the net, and then none other than Espen Johnsen who fired a clearance straight at the head of Etxeberría for him to send the rebound looping back into the net without the Athletic winger knowing much about it.
From that point on it was just a case of playing out the remaining half hour. Johnsen finally gave up the cause and abandoned the pitch, being replaced by ex Sevilla keeper Frode Olsen. And he was to provide the most entertaining moment of the remaining minutes, running half the length of the pitch to put in a high tackle from behind on an idiot who ran on to the pitch with the police standing and watching. Referee Pier Luigi Collina must have contemplated a red card, but there was nothing in the rule book to cover the incident. Spain started passing the ball about with ease after that, and Sáez gave a run out to Guti who could have scored another if he had not scuffed his shot. But it was a time for celebration, and thousands of Portuguese travel agents, hotel managers, shirt salesmen and the rest breathed a sigh of relief. The neighbours were not going to miss out on the party.