26 March ~ From 1536 to 1814 Denmark and Norway were one country. While the entity was, technically speaking, a union, Denmark was very much the dominant force, with Copenhagen the political, economic and cultural center of the union. In Norway the period is usually referred to as the time Norway was a part of Denmark. It all ended of course when the Danes foolishly lost Norway to Sweden in the Napoleonic wars. With this historical backdrop, it is perhaps curious that there is an almost complete lack of animosity between Norwegians and Danes – they get along fine and like nothing more than having a few beers together, discussing how insufferable the Swedes are. Still, when it comes to football there is a clash of philosophies to liven things up.
The Danes have a history of producing skilful players and playing football the "right way", while Norway have a history of producing workmanlike players and playing "functional" football. Where the Danes produced Michael and Brian Laudrup, Norway had Jostein and Tore Andre (and Håvard and, at a stretch, Jarle) Flo. The Danes attack with skill and flair, while the Norwegians play long balls in the general direction of a lone brutish forward. This is the public perception, anyway.
While it's not entirely accurate, it is accurate enough to have taken root among the two sets of fans. The contrast feeds nicely into existing stereotypes because, even though relations between Norwegians and Danes are largely cordial, the Danes to tend to see Norwegians as a bit simple; Norwegians, on the other hand, see the Danes as a bit full of themselves. Copenhagen was, after all, the civilized center of the union while Norway was the rocky, backwards and uneducated bit up North.
This clash of styles should be easy to spot for anyone tuning in to watch tonight's game. Denmark, under Morten Olsen, are doing their best to live up to their country's footballing past. It might not be the most impressive Danish line-up in recent decades, but in young Christian Eriksen they have a worthy heir to the Laudrup legacy. Norway, under the management of the largely misunderstood but undeniably eccentric Egil "Drillo" Olsen, are not about to faff around with sideways passes and the like.
The game is crucial to the outcome of Group H – Norway have started their campaign with three wins from three games against Iceland, Portugal and Cyprus, while the Danes beat Iceland and Cyprus but were defeated by the Portuguese. A win for Norway would push them a long way towards qualification, and a loss would realistically put group victory out of Denmark's reach.
"The style of football he practices is the most sad and destructive I've seen in all my years of watching international football," Danish football columnist Flemming Fjeldgaard wrote about Drillo this week. "Some people call what I stand for destructive, which I think is great. I've never understood why it's more entertaining to play the ball backwards than to play it forwards," Drillo countered. The friendly neighbours meet again tonight in Oslo: the Norwegians a bit simple, the Danes a bit full of themselves. Lars Sivertsen