A first-half strike from debutant László Kleinheisler gave Hungary a 1-0 first-leg lead over Norway in their Euro 2016 qualifiying play-off in Oslo last night. In a tight match head coach Bernd Storck’s team produced a fine away performance to blunt Norway’s attack and claim a potentially crucial first-leg win.
Norway had begun the game like an express train and in only the third minute they created the first clear opportunity, Markus Henriksen’s left-wing cross arriving at Norway captain Per Ciljan Skjelbred’s feet inside the box but his powerful first-time shot with the side of his right foot was sensationally palmed over the crossbar by Gábor Király on his 100th appearance in the national team.
From the ensuing corner Even Hovland headed over from a matter of metres and at that stage it looked a case of not if but when Norway would take the lead. However, Bernd Storck’s team settled down into the perfect rhythm for an away team, defending as an alert and organised group and breaking in numbers when the opportunity arose. Early on, it was Kleinheisler who had Hungary’s first chance but his fierce volley was beaten out by Ørjan Nyland in the Norway goal. The debutant midfielder was not to be denied for long though and in the 26th minute he scored his first international goal, his swerving drive from the right of the penalty area bamboozling Nyland and finding its way into the far left corner of the net.
Although the hosts had the bulk of possession it was Hungary who were now creating the clearer chances and they could even have taken a two-goal lead before half-time, but Ákos Elek could only steer a close-range header from a rapidly rising ball on the bounce just over the bar.
The second-half was an altogether more one-sided affair with Norway constantly pressing but rarely finding any way through. Stoic defence from Hungary restricted to the home team to little space in the final third and even fewer goalscoring opportunities aside from long-distance efforts. Striker Alexander Søderlund did manage to turn a defender and find space on the edge of the box only for his shot to fly high and wide. Norway’s best opportunity of the night came three minutes from the end of normal time when Stefan Johansen’s low shot was blocked by Király’s left leg and the rebound headed onto the crossbar by substitute Pål André Helland.
Perhaps the most telling statistic apart from the 1-0 margin of victory for Hungary was that the visitors hit the target four times from just six shots while Norway’s shots on goal was six, but from 22 shots overall. The second leg kicks off at 20:45 on Sunday evening at the Groupama Aréna in Budapest.