Set-back for Northern Ireland after defeat to Norway
Ullevaal Stadion, World Cup qualifier Group C – Norway (Brunt OG 71’) 1 Northern Ireland 0
Northern Ireland suffered a set-back in their bid to be seeded in the World Cup qualifying play-offs, as they lost 1-0 to Norway in their final Group C game.
Michael O'Neill's side had already secured a play-off position in the World Cup qualifiers before their game against Norway, thanks to Slovakia beating Scotland into second place in Group F.
However, a win would likely have meant Northern Ireland would be seeded in the draw, and thus an easier opponent, but now their ranking is unclear as Chris Brunt’s bizarre own-goal condemned them to their second consecutive defeat.
Stuart Dallas almost grabbed a late equaliser almost immediately after Brunt’s own-goal on 71 minutes, and Kyle Lafferty also headed over from close range.
The defeat means Northern Ireland should drop from 945 World Ranking points to 889 and it remains to be seen how detrimental that could be to their hopes of qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986 – they could yet draw European champions Portugal or Italy.
The four highest ranked countries in the FIFA rankings issued on 16 October will be seeded, with either Portugal or Switzerland already certain to be one of those teams.
In better news, Northern Ireland's key players won't miss the first leg: With a place in the play-offs already guaranteed before kick-off, the most important thing for Northern Ireland was not to lose any of the six players only one yellow card from missing the first leg. Captain Steven Davis and Johnny Evans were amongst those at risk, and Michael O’Neill will be thankful he will have his key players available for such an important match.
Mohammed Elyounoussi of Norway against Corry Evans of Northern IrelandReuters
MAN OF THE MATCH
Stefan Johansen (Norway) - Constantly found space on the channels, providing Norway with an outlet in the wide areas. It was the 26-year-old's cross which created the winning goal.
35’ - CHANCE FOR NORWAY! Northern Ireland clear the subsequent corner at the near post, but only as far as Meling whose first-time shot is awkward for McGovern who is forced to push it out for a corner. That's the best chance of the half thus far.
36’ - DAVIS GOES CLOSE! A well-struck effort from the Northern Ireland skipper from 25 yards causes all sorts of problems for Norway's goalkeeper, but he gathers on the second attempt, just ahead of Washington who was closing in on the loose ball.
38’ - GOOD SAVE FROM MCGOVERN! Norway win a free-kick in a dangerous position, on the right side of the box. Johansen steps up... the ball is heading for the top corner but McGovern is at full stretch to make the stop!
50’ – NORWAY HAVE GOAL DISALLOWED! The ball is played across the face of the Northern Ireland goal with Reginiussen seeing his effort brilliantly saved by McGovern, the loose ball is then converted by Soderlund but the linesman had his flag up.
71’ - OWN-GOAL! NORWAY TAKE THE LEAD! The opener comes in extraordinary circumstances - Johansen's cross from the by-line is palmed unconvincingly into the air by McGovern and in an effort to clear, Brunt thumps it into the roof of his own net.
73’ – ALMOST AN EQUALISER! Northern Ireland almost make an immediate response! A long throw-in is only half-cleared as far as Dallas, his first-time effort takes a nick off Lafferty and Nyland does well to push it behind for a corner.
- Northern Ireland conceded their sixth goal of the World Cup qualifying campaign, the other five were all scored by Germany.
- Norway have now won seven of the nine games between the sides.