FOOTBALL: Focus on Northern Ireland's opponents on Sunday: NORWAY

Martin Odegaard of Norway is still looking to break into the senior side
Martin Odegaard of Norway is still looking to break into the senior side

Northern Ireland conclude their World Cup qualification group campaign in Oslo on Sunday against a Norway team hoping to build momentum under Lars Lagerback.

Here is a profile of the country who found themselves 73rd in the most recent FIFA rankings.


Norway were out of the running to reach Russia early on having taken just four points from their opening seven fixtures. Lagerback arrived prior to the fifth game of the group, a 2-0 loss to Northern Ireland in Belfast that highlighted the scale of his task. A 6-0 drubbing to Germany aside, there have been signs a corner has been turned since. They beat Azerbaijan at home in September and trounced San Marino 8-0 on Thursday as Lagerback looks to enhance confidence ahead of the next qualification campaign. Norway, who beat Brazil at the 1998 World Cup, have not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000.


Lagerback is a name familiar to England fans given he has never lost to them in the seven games his team have played against the Three Lions. The ex-Sweden boss' most famous result in those contests was the shock victory he led Iceland to at Euro 2016, a defeat that cost Roy Hodgson his job. As well as taking Iceland to the quarter-finals that summer in France, he guided his native Sweden to five successive major tournaments. Despite that, Lagerback has never previously tasted success over a Northern Irish side, failing to do so in two attempts with Sweden in 2007 before the Norwegians were beaten in Belfast seven months ago.


Their manager is a long-time advocate of a traditional 4-4-2 system that flourishes when paired with collective strength and endeavour. That, plus Lagerback's preference for experienced heads, is why 18-year-old Real Madrid whizz kid Martin Odegaard is still waiting for a senior recall. Lagerback used the Elyounoussi cousins, Mohamed and Tarik, out wide against Northern Ireland, and they were exposed, though he may have to do so again due to injuries down the left flank. Northern Ireland will also fancy their chances of isolating diminutive left-back Birger Meling against the physical Josh Magennis with cross-field balls.


A squad that once boasted the likes of Oyvind Leonhardsen, Tore Andre Flo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only has one Premier League player and the good news from a Northern Irish point of view is that Bournemouth's Joshua King, who has scored five times in qualification, is missing due to a hamstring injury. Captain Stefan Johansen also plays in England with Fulham but he is a doubt with a similar issue and Jo Inge Berget, once of Cardiff and Celtic, is unlikely to feature because of a back issue. The Norwegians' next great hope is Genk's teenage midfielder Sander Berge, a player that nearly joined Everton and one who Lagerback has used as a regular since his arrival.