Northern Ireland went go into their last qualifier against Norway having already secured 2nd place in their group with last month’s qualifying win over the Czech Republic but a play-off spot is not 100% secured just yet. As most people are already aware of the nine second placed teams in the qualifying groups, eight teams will advance to the play off matches meaning one team will miss out. As things stand Northern Ireland are sitting 5th in the ‘second place’ table and have their destiny in their own hands as a draw against Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion will be enough to guarantee a play-off spot, Northern Ireland could even lose and hope that other teams currently ranked below them drop points.
After Thursday’s spirited defeat against group toppers and current world champions Germany Michael O’Neill had indicated that regardless of anything he will be playing the strongest team he can tonight, despite key players Jonny Evans, Steven Davis, Corry Evans, Oliver Norwood, Stuart Dallas and Josh Magennis all being one booking away from being ruled out of a potential first leg encounter. After being introduced during the game against Germany and helping improve the sides performance in the second half Conor Washington and Stuart Dallas could be in line for recalls to the starting line-up today.
In terms of the Norway squad one boost to Northern Ireland’s chances is that Norway’s top scorer and Bournemouth striker Josh King has been ruled out of this game with a hamstring injury. King has scored 5 goals this campaign, which would have been more than any other player on the pitch during tonight’s game.
Despite knowing a draw would be enough in Norway or in the worst case scenario a defeat with other results going our way Michael O’Neill has made it clear that he is determined to win tonight and one of the reasons for this is due to the fact that the draw for play-offs will be seeded. The draw is due to take place later in October and FIFA have confirmed that teams will be seeded based on their world rankings with the top four ranked teams being in one pot and the lowest ranked four in the other. As things stand Northern Ireland will be in pot 2 and could face one of Portugal, Wales, Italy or Croatia but all of this is likely to change as teams take part in their final qualifying games over the next few days.
A few years ago any sort of away game would have been daunting for Northern Ireland fans and it doesn’t seem too long ago when Northern Ireland took on Norway in Michael O’Neill’s first game in charge and were comfortably beaten but this is a Northern Ireland side that have only lost two games all campaign, against Germany, only conceded 5 goals, all against Germany and are currently sitting with more points than some 1st placed ranked teams so most fans are confident that we can get the job done tonight without having to rely on others.