May 29, 1998

Promising more offense, Drillos goes to France

with additional versatility

By Stephan Nasstrom

OSLO, Norway - Four years ago, Norway's ``Drillos'' were best in at least one thing - boredom.

Extremely dour in style, Norway scored only one goal and went home after the first round of the 1994 World Cup.

But with more and more of its players venturing to ply their trade in Europe's top leagues, Norway has become more versatile, a feature which it will have to rely on when it takes on Brazil, Morocco and Scotland in Group A.

The downside is that their style requires a lot of hard running in the heat, and some key players, especially those that get little playing time in England, may not be fit enough.

For example, Frode Grodas is a backup keeper for Chelsea. Striker Tore Andre Flo was a surprise starter in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 13. And then he left in the second half only to watch his replacement, Gianfranco Zola, score the game-winner only 18 seconds after entering the game as a substitute for the tall Norwegian.

The result is that some Norwegians are embarking on a vigorous fitnesss program before the World Cup finals.

Since 1938, Norway has only Kjetil Rekdal's late tally against Mexico to look upon as a moment of joy in the World Cup finals. The goal gave Norway the victory in '94, and the country thinks it has improved its offensive capacity in the last four years.

``Defensively, we're on the same level as in 1994 in the United States, but we have improved on offense,'' says head coach Egil ``Drillo'' Olsen. ``I think Brazil will win our group and we'll be battling for second with the other two teams.''

Flo, expected to play up front alongside Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjar if Olsen decides to drop his preferred ``lone striker'' formation in favor of a 5-3-2 system, agrees.

``Brazil must be the favorite,'' says Flo, who will be one of the tallest strikers in France. ``But on the other hand, we usually play better against more technical teams. Then we can fall back and counter-attack. Our chances to reach the second round are good, and then anything can happen.''

Brazil will be looking to avenge a stunning 4-2 loss - when Ronaldo was held scoreless - in the Norwegian capital of Oslo last year when they meet in their first-round finale June 23 in Marseille.

Norway, which finished its qualifying campaign unbeaten, has one of the most impressive home records in Europe. It hasn't lost at Ulleval Stadium since 1991, when Olsen became coach.

It didn't lose any of its friendlies against three other World Cup-bound teams this year. After starting with a pair of draws against France (3-3) and Belgium (2-2), the Norwegians blanked Denmark 2-0 for its first victory in Copenhagen in 27 years.

The results were even more impressive considering Olsen used 29 different players in those games.

``We have great depth,'' Olsen says. ``It means a lot of good players won't make it to France. We have a luxury problem.''

Norway also failed to make it past the first round in its first World Cup finals appearance in France 60 years ago, losing to Italy. Norway's greatest achievement arguably is winning the bronze medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Before an enraged Adolf Hitler, the Norwegians upset the German hosts before losing to eventual Olympic champion Italy in the semifinals.