Olsen targeting World Cup return for Norway

BANGKOK - Egil Olsen, who led Norway to their first World Cup finals in 56 years, is confident they can qualify again now he is back in charge of the struggling Scandinavians.

Olsen was appointed caretaker coach last week and believes he can lift Norway off the bottom of their qualifying group and guide them to their first finals since 1998.

"I'm happy to help us qualify, of course, and everyone is happy with this arrangement," Olsen told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The former boss of the now-defunct English side Wimbledon said he had no plans to take over permanently, insisting his coaching days were over long ago.

"I'm 66 -- I'm too old to do this now," said Olsen, who was appointed following Aage Hareide's departure last month. "But I told them I was happy to do it.

"They wanted someone who knew football and can develop the way we play, with national team experience -- there aren't many people like that in Norway.

"I said I can do it, just until a proper coach is found. If they find one soon I'll leave in April."

Olsen lifted underdogs Norway from European mediocrity to the World Cup finals in 1994 and 1998 and one place away from topping the FIFA world rankings.


However, his legacy was soon forgotten and Norway's brief appearance at the 2000 European championships was the last major tournament they played in.

Olsen, who is affectionately known in Norway by his nickname "Drillo", is adamant that despite their poor start in Group Nine, Norway can still qualify for South Africa 2010.

They have two points from three matches and trail Netherlands (9) Scotland (4) Iceland (4) and Macedonia (3). Two teams from the group have the chance to qualify.

"Things may look bad but I believe we have a very good, very realistic chance of qualifying," he added.

"We'll need a lot of luck but we are at the same level as the other teams, except for the Netherlands."

Olsen's coaching experience since finishing in the English top flight in 2000 has been restricted to the Norwegian under-19 side and an ill-fated three-match spell with Asian champions Iraq, by whom he was fired for refusing to travel to the war-torn country.

Despite his age, and surgery on his heart and back, Olsen said he was fitter than ever and would devote himself to getting Norway's campaign back on track. Their next qualifier is away to Macedonia on June 6.

Olsen said he had followed the national game closely and was not scared to introduce a different playing style or give the team a much-needed facelift.

"Of course, I will make changes," he said. "We have a lot of young players, a lot of good possibilities. When I name my first squad, it will include a lot of young, new players."

Although he insisted his appointment was only a short-term fix, when pressed, Olsen would not completely rule out long-term involvement with the team.

"It depends," he said. "If we get to South Africa, the situation will maybe change, but I'm not thinking that far ahead."