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Lagerback will make Norway tougher nut to crack, warns Northern Ireland boss

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland's game against Norway later this month was always going to be tough - now Michael O'Neill believes it has just got a great deal harder.

Norway have been given a 'new manager bounce' with Iceland's miracle man Lars Lagerback set to take charge for the first time.

It's a huge World Cup qualifier with an added sprinkle of spice courtesy of the 68-year-old, a man who has earned respect for guiding his native Sweden to two World Cups before helping Iceland warm the hearts of football fans worldwide with their first major tournament action.

England - under former Finland and Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson - were swept aside en route to the quarter-finals.

Norway will be well drilled by the experienced and wily Lagerback and O'Neill has admitted he will study the Iceland formula more closely to try to second guess what their opponents will do at Windsor Park on March 26.

"Lars Lagerback is a very experienced manager, I know him personally and how he likes his teams to play," said O'Neill whose only major concern is Corry Evans' groin injury.

"We will show the players a bit of Iceland as that's what we have to go on in how he works tactically and he might do something similar with Norway, even if it's a different group of players.

"But you have to get the balance right and stay focused on ourselves, we have been good here (at Windsor Park), not conceded here, we've only conceded to Germany in the four games, we've scored eight goals in the two home games so the positives that we have going into this game are huge and we are concentrating on that.

"We know that a victory in this game puts us seven points ahead of Norway with five games to go - that's a big gap to claw back over a short period of time.

"It will be a challenge because you do expect a bounce particularly when a manager like Lars Lagerback comes in who is renowned in that part of the world for his international success.

"What was a tough game has become tougher now that he's in charge."

• Northern Ireland women battled back from 3-1 down to draw 4-4 with Slovenia in their final Istria Cup game in Croatia.

The girls, who hammered Chinese Taipei 8-0, now have the chance to battle for third place tomorrow when they face France B.

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