Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/5
The new season is not yet a month old in major leagues, and we’ve already come to the first international break; another phase of the World Cup qualifications is upon us. In Group G, Netherlands travel to Norway first, and the two teams will face each other at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo on Wednesday evening. The team of officials comes from Poland, led by referee Szymon Marciniak.
The Dutch team begin a new era with this match. Louis van Gaal has been named their manager for the third time in his illustrious career, and he’ll be looking to set his country back on the right track after the disappointments of recent years. Netherlands suffered an unexpected exit from Euro 2020 in the round of 16, when they were beaten by the Czech Republic. Before that, they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
After the opening three matches of the qualification process, Netherlands are second in the group with six points. Montenegro and Norway are directly below with the same tally, while Turkey lead the way with seven. Latvia are fifth with one point, with Gibraltar sitting at the bottom with nothing to show for their efforts so far.
The campaign didn’t start well for the Dutch – they were beaten 4-2 away to Turkey in the opening round. They bounced back with a 2-0 home win over Latvia, and a 0-7 win away to Gibraltar.
Van Gaal and his team, as well as every single one of their supporters, will be thrilled that captain Virgil van Dijk is back. The Liverpool centre-back has only just returned from a 10-month absence from competitive football following a knee ligament rupture suffered in October last year, and he looks in fine form at the moment. However, Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt is suspended.
It remains to be seen if Van Gaal continues with the three-at-the-back system employed by his predecessor, Frank de Boer. If so, Manchester City’s Nathan Ake and Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij are likely to play with Van Dijk. If not, the pair will likely compete for the place alongside the captain.
Defender Daley Blind, midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum, Davy Klaassen and Ryan Gravenberch, as well as forward Luuk de Jong, are all in danger of suspension should they pick up a booking in this match, but its significance is great and Van Gaal won’t be holding much back.
If Netherlands had a few disappointing years, it’s nothing to how the Norwegians will be feeling at this point. The last major tournament they managed to take part in was Euro 2000, held the same year when Erling Haaland was born. The undoubtable quality of the Borussia Dortmund striker will have given the nation some hope that things could get a lot better in the near future, and his battle with Van Dijk in this match is an interesting prospect.
Stale Solbakken’s team are, as has been said, on the same tally as Netherlands in the group, but they sit bellow them and Montenegro due to inferior goal-difference. They managed to beat Gibraltar (0-3) and Montenegro (0-1) away, but like Netherlands, they were beaten by Turkey (0-2), though at home. It won’t be easy for them to try and reach the tournament in Qatar next year, but they’ll certainly give their best.
Genk midfielder Kristian Thorstvedt is suspended, as is striker Alexander Sorloth, who has just joined Real Sociedad on loan from RB Leipzig. Goalkeeper Rune Jarstein has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at the moment, so his place between the posts should be taken by Bournemouth’s Orjan Nyland.
Haaland will be the man leading the line upfront, with new Arsenal signing Martin Odegaard captaining the side from the midfield section. Kristoffer Ajer and Stian Rode Gegersen are expected to pair up in the heart of defence.
Despite Turkey leading the group at the moment, Netherlands are arguably the team of highest quality here, and though anything is possible, their place at the World Cup shouldn’t be in question really. They are still the favourites to win the group, and the favourites to win this match.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/5
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