Perhaps the focus on the playoff match for the European Championship against Serbia in October has become too strong.
It is easy to understand, all the time Norway has not been in a playoffs in just over 20 years.
But already tonight, the World Cup dream may be over, if the focus is not shifted immediately.
Lars Lagerbäck and Norway made it difficult for themselves with 1-2 at home against Austria, the supposedly strongest opponent in the Nations League group. For victory in the Nations League group is and will be Norway’s best opportunity for a World Cup final, where the famous eye of the needle only gets narrower and narrower.
In practice, it is about twice as difficult to qualify for a World Cup final as a European Championship final. In the European Championships, Norway qualifies for 24 places in the championship.
In the World Cup it is almost halved – 13 places will get Europe in the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
Then it goes without saying that every match counts, not least via the “sneaking method”, as the Nations League can be called.
Immediately after the Nations League is played in November, the European World Cup qualifying groups are drawn from the FIFA rankings. In the first five “pots” there are 10 layers, in the last there are five layers. At the moment, Norway is number 25 of the European teams in the FIFA rankings. This means that Norway – probably – ends up in «pot three», and that Lars Lagerbäck and co. guaranteed to get two very difficult opponents in the World Cup qualifiers.
And at least Norway does not end up higher in the FIFA rankings by losing matches in the Nations League. Because if we are to be among the 20 best European nations, and thus end up in “pot 2” and get a slightly easier way to the World Cup, then Norway must pass Iceland (24), Russia (23), Romania (22), Northern Ireland (21) and Ireland (20).
Then it might be wise, for several reasons, to start by beating Northern Ireland on Monday night. In his 31st match as national team manager, Lars Lagerbäck will restart a Norwegian national team where he started the job on March 26, 2017.
It should and will be a revenge-seeking Norwegian national team, after the belly splash against Austria. Neither Lagerbäck nor the players saw it coming, and the Swede admits that the team may have been too sure of victory after many good matches last time the players were gathered.
And the truth is as brutal as it is frightening: Monday night, even the simplest World Cup opportunity may have been used up. Without a victory against Northern Ireland, which Norway has beaten in six of the last seven meetings between the teams, the road via a group victory in the Nations League will be – almost – gone. For Austria are strong, and they are unlikely to lose many points in the rest of the tournament.