Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Norway: Defeat in Belfast would crush our play-off dream, says Lagerback

By Steven Beacom

New Norway manager Lars Lagerback has declared that Sunday's match with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park is a win or bust affair for his side's World Cup qualification hopes.

Lagerback was appointed boss in February after a poor start from Norway to the qualifying campaign, claiming only three points from their first four games under Per-Mathias Hogmo, and they came in a 4-1 victory over little San Marino.

The 68-year-old Swede will arrive in Belfast with a mighty reputation having led Iceland to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, famously beating England on the way in a last-16 clash that saw Roy Hodgson lose his job.

Norway are fifth in the Group C table, four points behind second-placed Northern Ireland, who are in pole position to net a play-off spot.

Sunday's match is vital for Michael O'Neill's men. Lagerback insists, however, that it is even more important for his team.

"For qualification, the match means everything," said Lagerback, whose squad are preparing in a London training camp. "There is almost no chance to reach the play-off if we lose the game, but we still have the possibility if we win."

Lagerback is no stranger to Windsor Park having managed Sweden at the stadium in a 2-1 defeat in 2007 against a David Healy-inspired Northern Ireland in Euro qualifying. He says that 10 years on he still regrets substituting Anders Svensson at half-time in that loss in Belfast.

"I have been there before and we lost 2-1. I used to say that I made my only mistake there," he added in ironic tone. "I changed out a player (Svensson) at half-time because he disappointed me. That taught me a lot."

Yesterday, Lagerback named former Celtic star Stefan Johansen as his new skipper. Speaking about the 26-year-old Fulham midfielder, the Norway manager said: "Stefan has the right qualities to be national team captain on and off the field. He is a leader and has made a good impression so far."

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