FANS of most major footballing nations would be deeply unhappy and possibly even clamouring for a change of manager if their team had started a qualifying campaign without a victory in their opening two matches.

The Norway supporters who will head to the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo this evening to cheer on their country in the Euro 2024 encounter with Scotland, though, are quite comfortable about their current predicament, content with Stale Solbakken being in charge and confident a place in Germany next summer can still be secured.

Optimism abounds ahead of Erling Haaland’s eagerly-anticipated return.

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Haaland, the Manchester City striker who has plundered no fewer than 58 goals in the 2022/23 campaign to date and who lifted the Champions League trophy in Istanbul last weekend, missed the opening Group A fixtures against Spain and Georgia away back in March due to a groin strain.

His compatriots expect the meeting with Steve Clarke’s side will, even though their opponents are on top of their section after triumphs over Cyprus and Spain at home, to have a far more favourable outcome with “The Terminator” back in the frame.

Vidar Riseth, the former Celtic defender cum midfielder who represented Norway on 52 occasions, including at France ’98 and Euro 2000, and who has worked in the media in his homeland since retiring from playing, knows the €60m striker will make a huge difference.

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“There is no pressure on Norway going into this game,” he said. “None at all. Everyone could see they were missing key players, including Haaland, through injuries against Spain and Georgia away. It was difficult for Stale because he was missing four or five players who normally play regularly.

“The Norwegian people know we are a small country and know we need to have all of the players available to be at our best.  But everybody is back now, including Haaland. It is good for Stale to have a fully fit squad.

“Haaland didn’t play against Spain or Georgia and he is obviously key. With him back we will be much better. He has just won the Champions League with Manchester City so he will be on a high. The team is built around him.

“We obviously have Martin Odegaard of Arsenal as well. He is the captain of the team and is really important for Haaland. When he plays Haaland receives the balls he needs and is able to be the offensive player that he is.”

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Riseth watched Scotland’s win over Group A top seeds Spain at Hampden back in March and was impressed with their performance. However, he thinks that Clarke would be well advised to alter his game plan for this outing against Norway because of the presence of Haaland on the pitch.

 “Erling is maybe the best player in the world at the moment,” he said. “He is such a dangerous player and is scoring so many goals. Scotland will have to be careful not to be too aggressive in this game. They will always have to think about the room they are giving Haaland in behind them. I think Scotland will come and be more defensive in their structure.

 “The Norwegian team has to win, Scotland don’t need to win. It is going to be a really interesting game. I saw Scotland against Spain and thought they played really, really well. It is 50-50. I can see it being a draw to be honest.”

Riseth is at pains to point out that Norway are far more than a two man team. The former Rosenborg, Luton Town, LASK Linz and 1860 Munich player is excited about the potential of his national team because of the strength in depth they have as well as the experience and expertise of their manager. 

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“We have a lot of players who play at a high level in good leagues in different countries,” he said. “Previously, Norway struggled because we had too many players who remained at home. The Eliteserien is a good league, but it isn’t as good as the Bundesliga, the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga or Serie A.

“Many members of our squad are playing in a league where the standard is much higher in Germany, France, Italy, England and Spain. They are playing regularly as well and that is important. Haaland and Odegaard may well be the stars, but we have many good players.

“We have Orjan Nyland (RB Leipzig), Kristoffer Ajer (Brentford), Julian Ryerson (Borussia Dortmund) Andreas Hanch-Olsen (Mainz), Leo Skiri Ostigard (Napoli), Mohammed Elyounoussi (Southampton), Frederik Aursnes (Benficva), Ola Solbakken (Roma), Alexander Sorloth (Real Sociedad), Jorgen Stran Larsen (Celta Vigo).”

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Riseth added: “Stale (manager Solbakken) is a good friend of mine. I played with him in the Norway team for many years, including in the World Cup. We played around 40 games together. So I know Stale really well.

“He has managed at a high level with Cologne in Germany and Wolves in England and did extremely well in his two spells with Copenhagen. He is a tough coach. His teams always have a really good structure. He likes to play a 4-3-3 formation.

“He demands that his players always give 100 per cent at every opportunity. During games, he is always at the side of the pitch urging his team to give their all. That is the most important thing for him.”

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Riseth anticipates that Solbakken will, as well as bringing Haaland back into his starting line-up, give Ajer, who has endured an injury-plagued campaign at Brentford, the nod due to his familiarity with the visitors.

“I think Kris will definitely be involved in the back four against Scotland,” he said. “The coach knows that he spent a long time with Celtic before moving down to England and knows all of the Scottish players well.

“But I know Norway will be really offensive in this game. Because they have to win they have to go out and attack. They only have one point after their opening two games. If they don’t beat Scotland it is going to be really difficult for them to qualify. But with Haaland back they are in good shape to get the result they need to kick-start their campaign.”