Norway’s World Cup qualification hopes already look bleak ahead of their visit to Northern Ireland this weekend.
Lars Lagerback has been appointed as the country’s new manager prior to Sunday’s qualifier in Belfast and after a poor start in Group C, the Swede must hit the ground running if they are to reach Russia in 2018.
Here News Letter Sport runs the rule over the next opponents for Michael O’Neill’s team.
The Norwegians, ranked 81st in the world, have won just one of their four World Cup qualifiers so far and that result is most memorable for the goal they conceded to San Marino, the minnows’ first away from home in 15 years. They have lost in Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic and a defeat at Windsor Park would leave them seven points off Northern Ireland at the halfway point. The country has not qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000 and were defeated by Hungary over two legs in a play-off for last summer’s tournament in France. It is a far cry from the team featuring Oyvind Leonhardsen, Tore Andre Flo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that beat Brazil 2-1 at the World Cup 19 years ago.
Last month Norway turned to the 68-year-old Lagerback in a bid to change their fortunes after Per Mathias Hogmo stepped down. Lagerback has had success with other Nordic nations, taking Sweden to five successive major tournaments and leading Iceland to their first last summer, where a shock victory over England saw them progress to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals. Lagerback has an impressive record against the Three Lions having never lost any of his seven meetings with them. However, in his previous two games with Northern Ireland in 2007, Lagerback’s Swedes were defeated in Belfast and drew in Scandinavia after Kyle Lafferty equalised.
It is difficult to know what to expect from Lagerback’s men given this is his first game in charge. Four of the Norwegians who played in their most recent fixture against the Czechs are no longer available as Alexander Tettey and Per Ciljan Skjelbred have retired, Haitam Aleesami is suspended and Brighton’s Vegard Forren is injured. More could be gleaned from studying the collective power of Iceland’s 4-4-2 under Lagerback and their constant threat from set-piece situations. They had many of the characteristics of O’Neill’s Northern Ireland team, though Norway’s situation in this group may persuade Lagerback he must be daring in pursuit of all three points.
The obvious dangerman is Bournemouth’s Joshua King, a former colleague of both Craig Cathcart and Corry Evans, and a striker who has scored eight Premier League goals in his past eight appearances. Adama Diomande, Markus Henriksen and Omar Elabdellaoui are on Hull’s books while Fulham midfielder Stefan Johansen, once of Celtic, is his country’s new skipper. Only goalkeeper Rune Jarstein is over 30 in Lagerback’s squad and he is also the most experienced at this level having been capped on 44 occasions. Yet there is no place this time for Real Madrid prodigy Martin Odegaard, who was capped by his country at the age of just 15 in 2014.