By Philip O’Connor
REUTERS – Norway’s time has come after 16 years in the football wilderness and the enthusiasm infecting the team should carry them through to the Euro 2016 finals, midfielder Jo-Inge Berget says.
“Things are looking very good,” the 25-year-old told Reuters on Wednesday. “When you’re winning, the supporters come and there’s great enthusiasm. That infects the players and everyone around them.”
Norway were ranked second in the world in the mid-1990s but have not qualified for the finals of a major tournament since Euro 2000.
They face Malta at home on Saturday before travelling to Italy for their final qualifying game on Tuesday. Two victories would secure second place in Group H and automatic qualification to next year’s finals in France.
“We have to see how the games go but it can be great. If we win the two of them we’re in the Euros,” said Berget who scored against Croatia last month to put Norway in second place in their group on 16 points, two behind Italy and two ahead of the Croatians.
After a drab home defeat in their opening qualifier against Italy and a 5-1 drubbing by Croatia in March, the Norwegians have improved vastly, winning back their long-suffering fans in the process.
Asked if the current squad could produce the goods in their final two qualifiers, Berget was quietly confident.
“I hope so but it’s up to ourselves,” he said. “We have a tough game away to Italy. If we manage third place we might end up in a playoff, but obviously we’d prefer to qualify directly.”
When important goals are needed, Berget could be the man to provide them.
The bearded attacker with seemingly boundless energy helped Molde to win the 2011 Norwegian league title, scoring in the decider against Tromsoe, and he netted twice against former club Celtic to help Malmo reach the group stages of this year’s Champions League.
His career stuttered somewhat when he accepted fellow Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solkskjaer’s invitation to join Cardiff City in 2014, before signing for Malmo in January. Now Berget is back on form and keen to represent his country at the finals of a major tournament.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “We haven’t been involved in anything like it since 2000, so after 16 years it’s time.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)