The Three Lions knew they were in for a tough game on the artificial pitch at the Marienlyst Stadium and that was exactly how it proved, as a first-half penalty from captain James Ward-Prowse made the difference.
Norway 0-1 England
UEFA European U21 Championship
Qualifying Group 9
Marienlyst Stadium, Drammen
Monday 7 September 2015
Gareth Southgate’s new-look side had to show their resilience, particularly under increasing second-half pressure, to hold on and make sure they took three points and keeper Jordan Pickford could take all the credit for that.
An added twist came on the morning of the game, when news broke that Real Madrid wonderkid Martin Odegaard was joining up with the Norwegian squad from their senior team.
And with the 16-year-old dropping straight into Norway’s line-up in his hometown, expectation was high for the local fans who felt they could strengthen their grip on Group 9 with a second win.
But despite flashes of Odegaard’s potential, the Three Lions held firm to show their character and determination.
With the two teams finding their feet in the early stages, Norway came closest to opening the scoring, when Ghayas Zahid fashioned enough space to line up a shot which cannoned off the top of the cross bar and over, much to the relief of Pickford.
That sparked their best period of the first half, with England often too wasteful in possession and giving their hosts further encouragement.
But England settled back into the game and took the lead on the stroke of half time, when Nathan Redmond was clumsily tripped just inside the area by Norway captain Jonas Gronner.
The referee did not hesitate in pointing to the spot and Ward-Prowse took hold of the ball before sending Sondre Rossbach the wrong way to score England’s first goal of the new campaign.
That goal, while flattering the Three Lions, also changed the pattern of the game as Norway had to put another foot further forward in their chase for a goal.
And Leif Smerud’s side responded with Kris Haraldseid’s cross narrowly missed by both Veton Berisha and Odegaard, before Thomas Grogaard sent a follow-up shot fizzing wide of the post.
Pickford was then forced into a good save to beat out Berisha’s shot in the area, after Nathaniel Chalobah had the ball nicked off him in midfield.
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Chambers made a timely tackle on Odegaard just past the hour mark, after a neat exchange of passes between him, Zahid and Berisha. The Madrid youngster was just about to shoot, before Chambers nipped in to take the ball.
Pickford was increasingly proving his worth too, dealing with the high balls and crosses into the box when needed, before almost finding himself with an assist.
After saving a header from Morten Thorsby, the Preston North End loanee bowled out to Ibe, who wasted no time in breaking swiftly up the pitch. Working his way across two defenders into the middle, his eventual low shot wrong-footed Rossbach only to roll inches wide of the post.
Pickford’s personal battle with Berisha continued, with the England keeper denying him again in the 75th minute as Norway upped the ante.
And when Iver Fossum’s low cross skimmed in front of goal with no-one there to score, it just felt like it would be England’s night.
Ulrik Jenssen then planted a header from Odegaard’s deep corner straight at Pickford, with the hosts starting to turn the screw but with the final whistle in sight, England were savvy enough to play out the match, and the pressure to leave the Drammen natives disappointed.
Norway: 1 Sondre Rossback; 4 Jonas Gronner (captain), 5 Thomas Grogaard, 9 Veton Berisha, 10 Ghayas Zahid, 14 Iver Fossum, 15 Kristoffer Haraldseid, 16 Ulrik Jenssen, 18 Morten Thorsby, 20 Ole Selnes, 22 Martin Odegaard.
Substitutes: 2 Birger Meling for Grogaard 59, 21 Alexander Sorloth for Thorsby 80, 19 Bersant Celina for Zahid 87.
Substitutes not used: 12 Per Bratveit, 3 Bjorn Utvik, 6 Anders Trondsen, 8 Fredrik Aursnes
Bookings: Jonas Gronner 45, Martin Odegaard 79
Head coach: Leif Gunnar Smerud
England (4-3-3): 1 Jordan Pickford (Preston North End, loan from Sunderland); 2 Joe Gomez (Liverpool), 5 Calum Chambers (Arsenal), 6 Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), 3 Matt Targett (Southampton); 8 James Ward-Prowse (Southampton; captain), 4 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), 10 Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur); 7 Jordon Ibe (Liverpool), 9 Cauley Woodrow (Fulham), 11 Nathan Redmond (Norwich City).
Substitutes: 16 Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea) for Alli 46, 17 Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton & Hove Albion) for Loftus-Cheek 70.
Substitutes not used: 12 James Wilson (Manchester United), 13 Angus Gunn (Manchester City), 14 Duncan Watmore (Sunderland), 15 Jack Stephens (Middlesbrough, loan from Southampton), 18 Solly March (Brighton & Hove Albion).
Goals: James Ward-Prowse 45pen
Bookings: Ward-Prowse 48, Chalobah 77.
Head coach: Gareth Southgate
Referee: Benoit Bastien (France)
Assistant referees: Hicham Zakrani & Frederic Haquette (France)
Fourth official: Stephane Jochem (France)