"And then the big man turned up..." The time Erling Haaland had the last laugh over Aberdeen's Lewis Ferguson
The 20-year-old Norwegian striker might be set to give Scotland a headache providing both teams make it to the Euro 2020 play-off final – Haaland’s Norway play Serbia as the Scots take on Israel next month.
Lewis Ferguson can already attest to Haaland’s powers after suffering a chastening experience on the last occasion he came up against Norwegian opposition. Scotland were leading Norway 4-2 in the battle to secure a place at the Under-19 Championships at the Elite stage in Germany two-and-a-half years ago.
"And then the big man turned up," recalled Ferguson. The big man was just 17-years-old at the time and still perhaps better known as the son of Alf-Inge Haaland, the former Leeds United player and Roy Keane nemesis.
However, Haaland junior, then with Molde, posted evidence of his potential as he battered a strong Scotland team, including Billy Gilmour, Ryan Porteous and Glenn Middleton, into submission with a hat-trick.
“He was just a different animal that day," recalled Ferguson. One minute, Scotland were celebrating coming back from 2-0 down to lead 4-2, and the next, Norway had staged their own recovery to win 5-4, with Haaland scoring the winner with a stoppage time penalty.
It was a typical Scotland story of glorious defeat as they fell just short of qualifying for the finals in Finland. In the end, a victory against Norway, the least they needed, would not have mattered as Germany thrashed Holland 4-1 in the other group game. Norway qualified as group winners while hosts Germany progressed in second place.
"That is the only experience I have had playing in Norway and it wasn’t a great one,” said Ferguson, who will likely anchor Aberdeen’s midfield alongside Ross McCrorie in the Europa League second qualifying round in Stavanger tomorrow night. "I would like to have a better experience.”
The clash with the Norway Under-19s was a painful ordeal for another reason. Ferguson revealed that he and his teammates had had a laugh at Haaland’s expense as they sat and watched a recording of Norway’s previous game against Holland. The striker had managed to do what now seems unthinkable and missed a glaring opportunity. Ferguson and his teammates giggled while Donald Park, the Under 19s manager, presumably shot them a withering stare. Haaland made Scotland pay for the impertinence.
"It was the first time I had encountered Haaland,” said Ferguson. "We had watched videos of him and I can remember this as clearly as anything. They were playing Holland before us and he missed a sitter. It was a bad miss. I know he is a top player but it was a bad miss."We all had a wee chuckle to ourselves hoping he played like that against us."But he was a different animal with his finishing and pace. You could tell he was going to go onto something great and he has done that.”
Haaland has packed a lot in since then. In January 2019 he joined Red Bull Leipzig, where he became the first teenager to score in five consecutive Champions League matches. A year later he joined Borussia Dortmund in a reported £20m deal and scored a 23-minute hat-trick v Augsburg after coming on as substitute on his debut. And, last week, he gave Scotland a further taste of what they might be up against in October when he struck two superb finishes for Norway in their 5-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast."He has been top class,” reflected Ferguson. "He was ruthless in front of goal the other night (v Northern Ireland). He has everything to be a top striker and we saw that a few years ago when we played against him."Now the rest of the world has seen that at the top level. I am pretty sure he will go on to even bigger and better things.”
Viking Stavanger, meanwhile, have enough firepower of their own to concern Aberdeen. Vito Berisha scored twice in Saturday’s 5-3 league victory over Kristiansund, with fellow striker Zymer Bytyqi also grabbing a double.
Indeed, Berisha is currently on a Haaland-style run after netting eight times in his last six appearances. One thing is certain, there will be no chuckling at the back of the room while Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes shows his players videos of Berisha's latest displays.
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