The minute football becomes more important than intimacy and a healthy relationship, some couples face mounting problems and a fierce debate about what really matters in life. After all, the world's favourite game is not necessarily everyone's absolute obsession.
But that is emphatically not the case for Norway international Havard Nordtveit and his fiancée Anna, because the Borussia Monchengladbach enforcer and his pretty Icelandic partner share a common goal.
“The World Cup in Brazil has absolute priority, although if we fail to qualify, we'll marry in Iceland. So it's a win-win situation for me, because they’re the two most important things in my life,” the player exclusively told FIFA.com.
Standing by her man
Fiancée Anna has pledged complete support to her future husband's success, as was made clear in the course of Norway's disastrous 2-0 defeat away to Iceland in their opening FIFA World Cup™ qualifier last year.
“My fiancée was hoping Norway would win, so that wasn't very patriotic of her," the player smiled. “But as a team, we never got to grips with the weather and the conditions there, and we were poorly prepared. We turned in a catastrophic display, but thanks to the way we've played since, we're still in with a chance," the former Arsenal man reasoned.
The painful setback ultimately served as a wake-up call at just the right time, as things have gone well for the Scandinavians since then. Thanks to victories over Slovenia and Cyprus and an away draw with Switzerland, Nordtveit and company lie second in European Group E behind the Swiss, and remain handily placed to claim a berth at a FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1998. In March, Norway meet Albania, who trail them by a single point.
“It'll be an incredibly difficult game," said the Monchengladbach regular, “Albania are one of the most underrated teams around. They've often come within a whisker of making the play-offs in qualifying for a major tournament. We'll need to be totally focused and play well, but if we do, we can take the three points and defend second place." Under coach Egil Olsen, the 22-year-old has matured into a Norway regular in a defensive holding role in front of the back four.
The coach rates the player very highly, and the feeling is mutual, as Nordtveit has nothing but praise for the man who was the last supremo to guide the Norwegians to the global footballing showdown, a feat he achieved in both 1994 and 1998.
“Obviously the coach is doing a great job. It's been a smart decision to bring on a new generation. It’s also changed the way we play, and I'd say it's more modern now. Naturally, we can’t go out and play like Barcelona, but we do have plenty of quality, and our counter-attacking play has come on tremendously. After recovering possession, we're now capable of getting into dangerous positions in front of our opponents’ goal with a couple of passes. In this respect, we're one of the best teams in the world," the passionate angler confidently declared.
A new golden generation?
In an intriguing twist, it was coach Olsen who successfully formed a golden generation in Norwegian football almost 20 years ago. Now, with the foundation provided by regulars like Nordtveit, the veteran boss is ushering in a new era.
The Scandinavians currently lie 27th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, still a long way off their best-ever placing in October 1993, when they proudly occupied second spot. However, for the likes of Nordtveit and his fellow aspiring youngsters, the future seems full of promise.
Borussia Monchengladbach are also benefiting from the midfielder’s blossoming talent, as he has rapidly become a key member of the team and a crowd favourite to boot. Indeed, the Norwegian has moved on from purely defensive duties and now frequently joins in attacking moves launched by the side currently lying eighth in the Bundesliga.
“Coach Lucien Favre has helped me grow in confidence, and that’s allowed me to expand my game. I get involved in our attacks more often now, I've calmed down, and I believe in myself," the player remarked. Hard work on the practice ground and that boost in confidence have produced five assists in the German top flight and two in the UEFA Europa League, a tally Nordtveit hopes to increase this evening, although the side from the Lower Rhine will surely have their work cut out against Italian giants Lazio in the Round of 32.
“But we know we can hold our own against Lazio if we play like we did against Dynamo Kyiv in Champions League qualifying. Lazio have some really good players and we know all about their quality, so we can't afford any errors, because you're punished brutally for every mistake at this level," the player commented.
Borussia know all there is to know about the Rome club's marksman Miroslav Klose, but will be denied the chance to use that knowledge as the Germany international is out injured. However, Nordtveit might yet come up against Germany's second-highest all-time goalscorer, provided both their national teams qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
And in the event the Norwegians fall short of a place at the Brazil showdown, Nordveit will take ample compensation from his personal Plan B, marrying his sweetheart Anna in Iceland.