The term 'Viking' is often used in to describe Scandinavian footballers. Strong, brave and uncompromising, these warrior-like players have a reputation for putting their foot in where it hurts.
"That’s such a cliché," laughed Norwegian international Henning Hauger in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "But I think we can live with that one. There are stereotypes for every nationality. In Germany they have to put up with jokes about beer, sauerkraut and bratwurst."
The 26-year-old midfielder has had plenty of opportunity to sample the latter following his move to Bundesliga club Hannover 96 over the summer, following eight years and 171 appearances with Stabaek IF in his homeland.
Six from eight
"I'm really enjoying it in Hannover,” said Hauger. “All my early impressions have been positive and the fact that my fellow countryman Mohammed Abdellaoue is here has made it a lot easier. He's helped me a lot."
Indeed, Abdellaoue's own positive experiences during his first year in Germany played a key role in Hauger’s decision to join the Lower Saxony club. "I asked him what he thought, but ultimately I made the decision myself," continued Hauger.
Both players have long been established members of the Norwegian national squad. While Abdellaoue is tussling with veteran target man John Carew for a starting berth, Hauger played the full 90 minutes in six of his country's eight UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers. Indeed, since his international debut in 2006, the defensive midfielder has become a regular in the side and won over 20 caps.
Unfortunately Hauger was unable to help Norway to a place at next summer's continental showdown in Poland/Ukraine. Egil Olsen's side fell agonisingly short of a play-off spot in Group H owing to their inferior goal difference compared to Portugal. Their great Scandinavian rivals Denmark finished top of the section to book their place at the finals automatically.
Norway have now missed out on three European Championships since their first and so far only finals appearance in 2000, but their FIFA World Cup™ record reads somewhat better. The nation currently placed 24th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings bowed out in the first round at both France 1938 and USA 1994 but reached the Round of 16 at France 1998, where they were beaten 1-0 by Italy.
After processing their EURO 2012 disappointment, Norway's attentions will turn to qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Hauger and Co. begin their campaign next autumn and have every confidence they can progress from Group E, which also contains Albania, Cyprus, Iceland, Slovenia and Switzerland.
"We have the ambition to qualify for the World Cup, especially after missing out on the EURO," said Hauger. "We respect all our opponents and I think it's a very even group, but of course we're determined to come through it.” National coach Olsen was similarly optimistic about his team’s chances following the preliminary draw at the end of July, claiming his charges had a duty to finish among the top two.
Brazil 2014 dream
Unsurprisingly, Olsen was another port of call when Hauger was seeking advice over his move to Germany: "You have to form an overall opinion and the best way to do that is to ask people who are close to you both personally and professionally."
The likeable midfielder is clearly enjoying life under Olsen and his club coach Mirko Slomka: "They're both unique characters in their own individual ways. I don't really like to compare them, but both are absolute experts in the field of football.
"Hannover are still in three competitions: We want to finish in the top ten in the Bundesliga and it would be great if we could survive the group stage in the Europa League too," continued Hauger, on the various challenges facing his new club in the coming months. "The games against FC Copenhagen and Standard Liege are going to be very exciting. We're also up against Mainz 05 in the DFB Cup so we want to reach the next round of that competition too."
Finally, what does he see as the main item on the Norwegian national team agenda? "It's all about Norway developing a strong team for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. It would a dream come true if we could be there in Brazil."