Football: World Cup performers from the English stage: Bohinen out to match the best

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ENGLAND may not be coming to the United States, but the domestic game is guaranteed a substantial presence in the finals. Not only by the Republic of Ireland but by Norway, a fact replete with irony for Lars Bohinen.

Despite being one of 10 members of the Norwegian squad who earn their living in the country they helped eliminate from the World Cup, Nottingham Forest's attacking midfielder has never been a fan of English football. Bohinen's acquaintance with the national team - Graham Taylor's version of which he scored against in Oslo a year ago - was hardly calculated to challenge his prejudices.

'I used to fall asleep watching English games on TV and much preferred French, Italian, Dutch or German football,' Bohinen said. 'Now that I'm at Forest, I enjoy watching Manchester United, especially Eric Cantona.' Has any English player caught his eye? 'Ryan Giggs is very good.'

Nine months at the City Ground have led Bohinen to a familiar conclusion. 'The game here is too physical, too hectic. They need to slow things down and allow the technical side to flourish.

'We played England at a good time last June, when they seemed tired and bored. When they picked the order of their fixtures they had Poland away a week before coming to Norway. They thought they'd get the hard one out of the way and then walk all over us.'

Norway won 2-0 and also held Terry Venables's team to 0-0 in last month's return match at Wembley. Such evidence prompts a damning verdict from Bohinen. 'I don't accept this tournament will be poorer without England. I'll miss France more.'

All this might sound rich coming from a country contesting its first finals since the war. But they go into their opening Group E match with Mexico in Washington on Sunday with a record which commands respect. 'We've shown we can match the best,' Bohinen said, 'though we don't kid ourselves we're world-beaters.'

Norway embraced professionalism only a year ago - Bohinen formerly dabbled in accountancy - so a career in England was a chance unlikely to be passed up. 'The climate suits us and our temperament, too. It's strange. . . I always said I'd never go to England, but now I've got my small house in Nottingham and I'm playing for a club there.'

Not just any club: Forest's traditional values attracted Bohinen as he pondered a move last autumn. The snag was that they had recently been relegated, which meant preparing for heat, humidity, Mexican waves and Maldini on days when you could see your breath at Tranmere and Watford.

While the likes of Jan Age Fjortoft and Erik Thorstvedt tested John Motson's pronunciation prowess, the occasional 'Bohinen rhapsody' headline in Midland editions had to suffice as a reminder that Frank Clark's pounds 400,000 snip was a success. Nationally, most fans did not know their Lars from their elbow.

Having aided Forest's rise into the promotion reckoning, Bohinen suffered a worrying spell in March. 'My muscles went on strike and I simply couldn't play any more. The season at home didn't finish until 20 October, then it was straight into action in England.' Clark gave him two weeks off and Bohinen returned, refreshed, to help clinch a top-two spot. Now he can hardly wait to get cracking in America.

Bohinen maintains that Egil Olsen's team are in by far the strongest group. After the Mexicans they move on to New York to tackle Italy, whom Norway defeated and drew with in the qualifying for the last European Championship finals. In Oslo, Bohinen scored the kind of goal he fantasised about as a boy growing up north of the Arctic Circle. After intercepting a pass from Massimo Crippa to Ginaluca Vialli, he dummied both Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi before beating Walter Zenga. 'A good goal,' he said, beaming at the memory.

Norway finish the first phase against the Republic of Ireland, also at Giants Stadium. 'I expect it to be a high-tempo match which the fitter side will win,' Bohinen said. 'We also play a very British game, though with more movement up front. If we play the ball long and win it, we support very quickly.'

After that? 'If we can get to the quarter-finals, anything might happen. I'd like to think one of the outsiders could do really well.' Then it will be back to that small house and the Premiership. Provided, Bohinen added with a grin, he does not receive 'some fabulous offer from a top Italian club' in the meantime.

(Photograph omitted)