WORLD CUP QUALIFIER: Lars Lagerback looking forward to his debut with Norway in Belfast

Norway Manager Lars Lagerback speaks to the media ahead of Sundays World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland
Norway Manager Lars Lagerback speaks to the media ahead of Sundays World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland

England’s nemesis Lars Lagerback never expected to be considered for the Three Lions job last year as he instead tries to bring footballing pride back to the country considered the happiest in the world.

The 68-year-old takes charge of Norway for the first time against Northern Ireland this weekend and arrived in a sunny Belfast beaming about the very “non-British weather” across the water from the nation whose footballing dreams he dashed in the summer.

It was Lagerback’s Iceland who ended England’s run at Euro 2016, and subsequently Roy Hodgson’s reign, to improve his unbeaten record against the country to seven games including his time with Sweden.

Some felt that the Football Association could do worse than have the vastly experienced Swede as a candidate when Hodgson departed, yet Lagerback was never truly thought of and he instead took up the post with Norway earlier this year.

“You have to be realistic,” Lagerback said.

“It’s rather interesting after all these years that the big countries normally have a respect for the Nordic countries and the way the national teams are playing.

“(But) I don’t think coaches from smaller countries have that status. I didn’t expect in any way to get a question from the English FA.”

While not considered to be the man for the job, he is well placed to comment on why the nation have come unstuck in recent times.

England have not won a knockout game in over a decade and the shock loss to Iceland in France stunned many observers, but not Lagerback.

“I can’t say I was surprised - after so many years in football the only thing that surprise me is that nothing surprises me any more in football,” he added.

“It’s interesting with England. They have a lot of good players but they normally go to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and that is stopping. It’s something with the English team and my experience is that I’ve never lost against them so I’m rather happy about that!”

It is another of the home nations who occupy Lagerback’s thoughts this weekend as he tries to plot the downfall of a Northern Irish team already four points ahead of the Norwegians in Group C.

That does not seem to be depressing their inhabitants too much, though, as a United Nations study this week found people from Norway are the happiest on the planet.

When asked what he could do to make them even happier, Lagerback replied: “I don’t think you should ask that question to me as a Swede!

“We met some supporters at London airport and some of them said to me, ‘As long as you’re winning, we are happy’. That is what football is about at this level - you need to win.”

Four players who started Norway’s last match are not in Belfast due to retirement, suspension or injury and their defensive resources have been stretched. However, Lagerback insisted Tore Reginiussen’s absence from training due to a head injury was just as a precaution.