Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Erling Haaland and Norway lose to Spain: Will Man City’s superstar ever play a major international tournament?

Erling Haaland’s chances of featuring for Norway at UEFA Euro 2024 may have suffered a terminal blow with Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Spain in Oslo. La Roja’s narrow victory at Ullevaal, thanks to a Gavi goal early in the second half, ensured that the Spanish will emerge with Scotland from qualification Group A.

The Manchester City man and international teammate Martin Odegaard were powerless to salvage something for Stale Solbakken’s men in the key encounter which leaves Lovene five points adrift. Given they have played one game more than Spain and the Scottish, Norway’s only hope of reaching Germany is now a potential playoff route which relies heavily on UEFA Nations League rankings.

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UEFA Champions League winner Haaland and Arsenal and Drillos’ captain Odegaard have never featured in an international tournament. The last time Norway reached a major international competition of any description was Euro 2000 which ended 19 days before the 23-year-old City star was even born.

Haaland’s father Alf-Inge was not part of the Norwegian squad for that edition co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands while Odegaard was not even two years old when his country finished third in Group C behind Spain and FR Yugoslavia despite beating the Spanish 1-0. The scenario could now see both Premier League stars forced to wait until at least the expanded FIFA 2026 World Cup which in itself offers the pair hope as it grows from 32 nations to 48.

With the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly over recognition as the best players in world soccer fading fast, Haaland is viewed by many as one of the most likely of a new generation of talents to replace the legendary Argentinian and Portuguese stars. Paris Saint-Germain and France’s Kylian Mbappe is one obvious rival for potential future individual success.

Like Haaland, the French superstar is yet to win his first Ballon d’Or, but he does have a World Cup to his name, has excelled in another final and will captain Les Bleus in Germany next summer having secured their qualification in the Netherlands last week. Haaland has the Champions League title that Mbappe craves, but has not even featured at a major international tournament yet.

Can Haaland even be considered the best if he is not featuring at the highest level of international soccer? Major success at club level obviously helps to compensate in that regard, but Mbappe doing the unthinkable and winning the UCL in Paris or moving on to Real Madrid where his chances of future success would be strengthened would outstrip what the Norwegian has done thus far.

Should Norway not make it to Euro 2024 via the playoffs, Haaland’s approach to the post-2024 period leading up to the 2026 World Cup in North America will be very interesting. We have seen former Sweden talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic exhibit two different possibilities: on-off national team retirement but also technical reinvention which ultimately made him a more complete player.

The Swede was limited to only early career World Cup outings in 2002 and 2006 given Blagult’s 2010 and 2014 failures and Ibrahimovic’s failed 2018 comeback but he did at least enjoy the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Euros although injury put paid to his 2020 hopes as age had started to tell. Zlatan’s example could lead Haaland to consider a positional change to involve himself more collectively.

Ex-Bulgaria international Dimitar Berbatov experienced at least one Euro back in 2004 which seems absurd for such a talented player who played for the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco and Fulham. Some modern Italian examples also apply, such as Marco Verratti, but he at least sampled a World Cup and won Euro 2020.

All is not lost for Haaland nor Odegaard given their young ages but Norway’s absence from the major international tournaments could be edging closer to 30 years by the time they finally do make it in the coming years. How the pair and the City star, in particular, choose to tackle that challenge next promises to be a fascinating examination of one of modern soccer’s emerging individuals.

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