FOOTBALL: Talking ponts - Norway v Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and captain Steven Davis at a press conference in Oslo
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and captain Steven Davis at a press conference in Oslo

Northern Ireland face Norway on Sunday night in a closing World Cup qualifier that still has plenty riding on it - even if Michael O'Neill's team have their play-off place sealed before kick-off.

Here are the talking points prior to the Group C contest in Oslo.

NORTHERN IRELAND'S PLAY-OFF UNCERTAINTY

O'Neill is in quite a predicament. His team have already confirmed a runners-up finish in Group C but have not definitely guaranteed a play-off place. They would be assured of one approximately an hour before they kick-off in Oslo if Scotland fail to win in an earlier game. O'Neill has six players one booking away from a suspension and may rest some if their play-off berth is secured, but with the draw for those two-legged ties seeded based on world rankings, a win in Norway could be pivotal. If the play-off permutations have not caused O'Neill headaches, the risk-reward factor with his already-cautioned players must have done.

WILL O'NEILL MAKE CHANGES?

In short, probably. Lee Hodson was brought in against Germany on Thursday so O'Neill could play a back five and was replaced at half-time by Stuart Dallas, who will surely start in a game where Northern Ireland will be expected to carry a greater attacking threat. Kyle Lafferty was preferred over Conor Washington at Windsor Park too and it will be a surprise if that is the case at the Ullevaal Stadion given the QPR man scored in the reverse fixture back in March. If O'Neill decides to exercise caution with those on a booking, Burton's Tom Flanagan and Millwall's George Saville could be considered for first competitive Northern Ireland starts.

NORWAY'S APPETITE TO SPOIL THE PARTY

A place in Russia has been out of reach for Norway ever since they opened the group by taking just four points from their opening seven fixtures. On the one hand a more care-free approach may have benefited them in wins over Azerbaijan and San Marino as they look to build momentum prior to the next qualification campaign. On the other, they have little incentive compared to a Northern Irish team seeking a seeding even if their play-off place is already confirmed. From a Norwegian perspective, there is nothing to lose, or nothing to gain, depending on how you view it.

THE GERMANY EFFECT ON AGEING LEGS

Not much energy was expended by the Norwegians when they brushed aside San Marino 8-0 on Thursday but Northern Ireland experienced a totally different evening chasing shadows around Windsor Park against Germany. The mental and physical impact of facing the world champions is bound to have taken its toll on O'Neill's squad and with five of the starting XI that night all over 30, there has been little recovery time. O'Neill must hope the big-game environment will ensure any weary legs can avoid being too fatigued against opponents that must feel far fresher.

arting XI that night all over 30, there has been little recovery time. O'Neill must hope the big-game environment will ensure any weary legs can avoid being too fatigued against opponents that must feel far fresher.