It was fun to bring countries like Belgium, France, England, Italy, Spain and Portugal to Olival for important football matches. Now that is already possible. But then Slovenia must be defeated on Saturday night in Ljubljana.
With two matches left to play in the second tier of the Nations League, Norway leads. Had it not been for the only disappointment in the qualifiers so far, against Slovenia (0-0), Norway would have already been a group winner by a wide margin.
The two missing points mean the tension is still there, but Norway has the lead – and manages this well even if the job is done on Saturday and/or Tuesday.
Four points in the last two games, Slovenia away on Saturday and Serbia at home on Tuesday, then accumulating the win and promotion to the Nations League “elite series” is a fact.
The matches against the best and most fan-friendly nations in the upcoming Nations League are, therefore, packed with a lot of interest. That is why, among other things, it is important to win this group.
Norway has had an almost perfect Nations League so far, winning both at home and away against Sweden and out against Serbia. But it did not go well against Slovenia at home. It was a disappointment with 0-0 at home, especially after Norway won 10-2 by the chance statistics.
It should have been a win – as Norway used to face Slovenia in particular: since 1998, Norway and Slovenia have met 10 times, Norway won six times and lost only once.
The 4-0 win at home in 1999, in which Norway secured a place in the 2000 European Championships, is still remembered by many. It was a Norwegian national team at its best, with Drilo’s style of defense and slightly different types in attack under Nils Johan Semp.
But against the same country, in the European Championship play-off games nine months later, Norway could not score, despite having a group of good strikers on the field at the same time, Stephen Iversen, Jon Carew, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Tore Andre Flo – perhaps it was Much. 0-0 eliminated Norway from the group stage, Nils Johan Semp was on his knees, captain Ståle Solbakken despaired – neither Semb nor the national team fully recovered from this.
Perhaps not yet, specifically under Solbakken.
It’s been almost 17 years since Morten James Pedersen sent the winning goal in a World Cup qualifier. A good Norwegian team, perhaps the best among EC 2000 and now, came second in the group, behind future FIFA World Cup winner Italy. Norway finished the play-off against the Czech Republic, and took second place in the FIFA rankings, losing 0-1 and 0-1.
Since then, Norway have lost 3-0 there in Per-Matthias Hoogmo’s first match as national team manager (2013) and played 1–1 in the Nations League under Lars Lagerback in 2018.
At home in Olival, Norway had four straight victories against Slovenia, before the workplace accident in June (0-0).
A win in Ljubljana now could soon be enough for Norway to win their Nations League group and move into the second seeded group to qualify for the European Commission – if Sweden beat Serbia on points.
If not, Norway will have another match ball – against Serbia at Olival Stadium on Tuesday.
It should work this time. Martin Odegaard is probably healthy enough to play.
Then Norway has Erling Braut Haaland.
This may soon be enough.
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