Football / World Cup USA '94: Norway make bright start

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The Independent Online
Norway. . .1

Mexico. . .0

KJETIL REKDAL, whose goal at Wembley helped knock England off the qualifying trail, struck within minutes of appearing as a late substitute, to ensure that Norway joined the Republic of Ireland at the head of Group E here yesterday.

Norway deserved their success, but survived an injury-time scare when Mexico's Luis Alves headed against a post and was prevented from converting the rebound by Henning Berg's goal-line clearance.

One of the few non-Mexicans present was Jack Charlton, whose side meet Mexico in Orlando on Friday. Even steamy Florida can hardly be more sauna-like than the capital yesterday; temperatures were nudging an all-time high for the capital in the upper 90s, with humidity to match.

This section has, of course, been dubbed the Group of Death - by quirky coincidence the biggest crowd ever assembled at RFK came to see the Grateful Dead - although the match enjoyed a lively start. The Norwegians, playing their first game in the finals since 1938, featured seven English-based players in their starting line-up, and were clearly intent on using the height of Jostein Flo.

The ploy may have smacked of Wimbledon at their worst but against Mexico, one of the tournament's smaller teams, there was a certain logic behind it. Indeed, Flo's aerial strength might well have helped Norway into a deserved half-time lead.

In the 23rd minute, the high-rise Sheffield United player flicked on a long free-kick. Jan Age Fjortoft lunged to put the ball past Jorge Campos - he of the psychedelic surfwear - only for the referee to rule that the Swindon striker's foot had been too high. Flo and Campos were soon engaged in another unequal contest for another cross, but the official again came to Mexico's rescue as Oyvind Leonhardsen tried to force in the loose ball.

Shortly before half-time, Campos made a save almost as extravagant as his kit to keep out Fjortoft's fulminating volley. Meanwhile, Mexico had threatened only sporadically, Luis Garcia alone testing Erik Thorstvedt in Norway's goal.

Norway soon regained the ascendancy after half-time, when Flo saw a drive deflected over by Ramon Ramirez and hit the top of the net with another header.

With five minutes remaining, an otherwise poor referee allowed advantage as Fjortoft was fouled in the act of passing. Rekdal raced clear to fire beyond Campos. In the background a banner in the crowd demanded: 'Norway - Stop Killing Whales'. It is their potential to damage Ireland that will have concerned Charlton.

The elated Norwegians claimed that the Irish defeat of Italy had been an inspiration. 'They showed it was possible to play a pressing game in the heat,' Lars Bohinen said. 'Now we need to take something from Italy on Thursday so that everything doesn't depend on the last game with Ireland.'

MEXICO (2-5-3): Campos (UNAM); Suarez (UNAM), J Ramirez (UNAM); Gutierrez (Atlante), L Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Del Olmo (Veracruz), Ambriz (Necaxa), R Ramirez (Santos Torreon); Valdes (Lyon), Sanchez (Rayo Vellacano), Alves (America). Substitutes: Galindo (CD Guadalajara) for Valdez, h/t; Bernal (Toluca) for Gutierrez, 70.

NORWAY (4-5-1): Thorstvedt (Tottenham); Haland (Nottm Forest), Berg (Blackburn), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Bjornebye (Rosenborg); Flo (Sheff Utd), Bohinen (Nottm Forest), Mykland (Start), Leonhardsen (Rosenborg), Jakobsen (Young Boys Berne); Fjortoft (Swindon). Substitute: Halle (Oldham) for Jakobsen, h/t; Rekdal (Lierse) for Mykland, 76.

Referee: S Puhl (Hungary).

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