NORTHERN Ireland face a crucial match in Belfast as they chase second-place in Group C and Selectabet (@selectabet) thinks there’s merit in siding with Michael O’Neill’s men and he finds some value in a potential goal-scorer.
Northern Ireland v Norway | Sunday 19:45 | Sky Sports 2
Four teams are in the fight for second place in Group C where Northern Ireland find themselves five points behind Germany but ahead of the chasing pack of Azerbaijan, Czech Republic and Norway.
It’s the travel-sick Norwegians who provide the opposition for Michael O’Neill’s men on Sunday night and a win could see Northern Ireland take a step closer to reaching their second major tournament in succession.
O’Neill’s side have picked up where they left off at Euro 2016 with two comfortable 4-0 wins over Azerbaijan (who beat Norway 1-0 at home) and whipping boys San Marino.
They weren’t disgraced in Hanover when they rallied after find themselves 2-0 down inside 17 minutes to Germany, (eventually losing 2-0) and gained a creditable draw away to Czech Republic. That’s left them on seven points from four matches with arguably their two hardest road trips already out of the way.
New dawn for Norway
After a disappointing start to their campaign Norway have ushered in the a new era with appointment of the ever-impressive Swede Lars Lagerbäck. You will of course remember Lagerbäck as one half of the managerial team that masterminded Iceland’s journey to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 – which included that famous 2-1 win over Roy Hodgson’s England.
Lagerbäck brings a wealth of experience to the role and led Sweden to five consecutive championship finals so we should expect to see some kind of response from his squad but I think home advantage should be enough to see Northern Ireland prevail in front a crowd still bouyant from last summer’s exploits.
Indeed, Norn Ireland have lost just one of their last 11 home internationals (W8 D2), losing a friendly against Croatia in their last match at home. Norway on the other hand have won just once in their last seven on the road – that a victory over San Marino.
It’s hard to make any kind of case for the form being reversed, no matter how much influence Lagerbäck’s appointment has. At 13/10 Northern Ireland simply look too big to ignore and should be backed to win.
Goal-machine Gareth could provide breakthrough
Despite a lack of stellar names Michael O’Neill continues to squeeze the best out of his squad and QPR’s Connor Washington is expected to start up front but the crucial goal(s) could come from an unlikely source.
Gareth McAuley has netted nine times for his country – level in the all-time list with the great George Best and he has a knack of scoring crucial goals. The West Bromwich Albion central defender has scored seven goals for the Premier League side this season, the best return in his career and could be worth a small investment at 16/1 to score first or 13/2 to score anytime.