While Norway hope to secure their second ever appearance at the European Championship finals, Hungary aim to end a 30-year wait for a major tournament, so at least one of the two barren runs will come to an end when the evenly matched Euro 2016 play-off tie is decided over the next few days.
Together with Iceland, Norway have been the least successful of all Nordic sides, having only once played at the European Championship finals, while reaching a total of three World Cup tournaments. The national team have struggled a great deal since the likes of John Carew, John Arne Riise and Steffen Iversen retired from international duty, but they finally have some fresh talent coming through the ranks. Real Madrid wonderkid Martin Odegaard is without a doubt the country’s hottest prospect at the moment, while players like Stefan Johansen, Jo Inge Berget and Markus Henriksen are a bit older, but have already proved their worth to the national team. Current coach Per-Mathias Hogmo appears to have finally found the right balance in the side, with the 5-1 loss to Croatia serving as a great learning curve, and successive wins over Bulgaria, Croatia and Malta in which the team did not concede a single goal prove they are on the right track. And with Norway giving mighty Italy a run for their money in their final qualifier in Rome, the Nordic side look a good bet to create an advantage ahead of the return leg with Hungary. The good news is that experienced defender Tom Hogli is back in contention and he could replace Haitam Aleesami on the left flank, but Joshua King has been left out. In-form striker Marcus Pedersen is pushing for an inclusion alongside domestic league top scorer Alexander Soderlund.
Hungary were surprisingly given a great chance to reach their first major tournament in 30 years having been placed in an easy group that did not have a single top side, and the one where number one favourites Greece were out of contention for promotion places early on. But, while showing some promise in the process, Foci were unable to clinch one of the top two positions, whereas also missing the opportunity to qualify as the best third-place side by losing in Greece. Hungary again had the luck of the draw having been pitted against Norway in the play-offs, but even so, we feel that they will again missing out on the European championship finals. The problem is that coach Bernd Storck has been making too many changes in all areas of the team, which in turn prevented the players from getting used to one another, and he has continued to make controversial decisions. The German coach opted to leave important midfielder Daniel Tozser out of the squad, while surprisingly recalling Adam Szalai and Zoltan Stieber, who had missed the October games. But, with key defender Roland Juhasz out through suspension, and 36-year-old Zoltan Gera still operating in midfielder, Foci clearly have their work cut out for them.
Norway have shown a great deal of improvement of late and with all key men available, we are backing them to continue the rich vein of form at Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. Hungary have experienced plenty of problems of late and numerous changes to the starting line-up are unlikely to help in this match either.
Verdict: Home win
Best Odds: 10/11
Bookmaker: William Hill