Football: Morocco thwarted as Eggen rescues Norway

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The Independent Online
Norway 2

Chippo og 45, Eggen 62

Morocco 2

Hadji 38, Hadda 59 Att: 35,500

THE FIRST evening encounter of the tournament proved an uncomfortable experience for Egil Olsen's much-vaunted Norwegian side at the Stade Municipale de la Mosson here last night. They fell behind twice to spectacular Moroccan finishing, dragging themselves back into the match each time with a scrappy equaliser. On the evidence of yesterday's games, and particularly in view of this result, Craig Brown's Scotland will be fancying their chances of progressing from Group A despite their defeat at St Denis.

The superior fitness of the Norwegians threatened to expose the Moroccans towards the end, and goalkeeper Driss Benzekri must take a share of the blame for both Norwegian goals, but it was an enterprising performance by the North Africans which bore little resemblance to the 1-0 defeat by England in Casablanca a fortnight ago. "Morocco were a very strong team," Olsen said. "I saw them against France and I knew they could play well. I'm not too unhappy with a point."

One notable absentee in Casablanca was Moustafa El Hadji, whose pre-match billing had left him a lot to live up to, but he did not let the fervent Moroccan supporters down. Hadji came into the tournament nursing a broken toe, sustained in the last game of the season for his Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna and he took a while to get involved last night.

But two long-range efforts midway through the first half signalled his intent. The first was straight at Frode Grodas, while the second, a minute later, was a venomous strike with the outside of the right foot that had Norway's goalkeeping captain scrambling to his left to avert the danger.

For their part Norway offered little in attack after a bright start when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ought to have scored but fired over from close range. The Moroccans grew in confidence and a free header for Salahaddine Bassir, poorly executed, should have made alarm bell ring in the Norwegian defence. As it was, the Africans took the lead seven minutes before the break.

A long ball from Tahar El Khalej found Hadji in space on the left. He expertly cut inside Dan Eggen, desperately tracking back, before drilling a low right-footed shot across Grodas into the far corner of the net.

The whole of the Moroccan bench rose to join in the celebrations, but they were cut short against the run of play on the stroke of half-time. Kjetil Rekdal, with just about his first contribution of the night, curled over a free-kick from the Norwegian left, Havard Flo challenged Benzekri and the unlucky Youssef Chippo could only divert the loose ball into his own net via a reflex header.

Despite that setback Morocco were first out of the traps in the second half, a snap shot by Bassir and a diving header by his fellow striker Abdeljilil Hadda keeping Grodas busy, and it came as no surprise when they retook the lead on the hour. Again El Khalej's perfectly weighted through ball was the key, this time Hadda timing his angled run beyond Eggen before steering a well-struck shot high past the right hand of Grodas.

But the Norwegians hit back within a minute, Eggen making amends by heading home after Benzekri and his captain, Noureddine Naybet, had got in each other's way at the near post following Stig Inge Bjornebye's inswinging free-kick. Benzekri partially atoned with a fine diving save from Havard Flo, who was replaced by Stale Solbakken. The substitute had an effort cleared off the line by Abdelilah Saber withiun seconds of coming on. After a frantic finale, a draw was just about the right result. But a win would have done wonders for either side.

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