Laszlo Geczo/INPHO John Egan reacts to a missed chance.

Late goal condemns Ireland to friendly defeat against Norway

Ireland fell to a 2-1 loss to a Norway side without Erling Haaland.

Republic of Ireland 1

Norway 2 

STEPHEN KENNY’S IRELAND are a side forever meeting the exact timbre of an occasion. 

That’s a good trait to have when the atmosphere is charged and the opposition is high calibre, though much less so on a night as listless as this. They are much better at feeding off the crowd than feeding them: when Ireland don’t rise to the occasion, they sink to it. 

This was a meaningless friendly tipping right onto the Beckettian end of the scale; played in the long shadow of the World Cup in an unsanctioned window with its star presumably not bored enough to even watch it on television. It was the kind of game the broadcasters will be shown at the next rights auction for the Uefa Nations League. 

The fact Erling Haaland didn’t travel drained the electricity from the stadium before the game, and a sleepy first-half was punctured by Norway taking the lead just before its end. Ireland stirred themselves to force an equaliser midway through the second half but once they had it they again slunk back into their lethargy, contriving to lose the game to a late goal by substitute Ohi Omoijuanfo. It once again came from a simple set-piece. 

This was in theory a tune-up for the meeting with France in Euro 2024 qualifying though the bleached atmosphere, the tedious pace and the absence of Ballon D’Or contenders on the opposition team-sheet meant it had no bearing to whatever is in store next March. 

Nonetheless, it was a chance for the bulk of Kenny’s team to cohere a little further and a few understudies earn a shot in the spotlight. There were a trio of the latter: Alan Browne slotted into midfield and impressing the most with a delightful, long-range equaliser. Callums O’Dowda and Robinson, meanwhile, each shucked off a zestless first-half to add to Ireland’s attack in the second half.

O’Dowda was playing at left wing-back for the first time for Ireland, a role he has become familiar with against Cardiff. Norway frequently exploited the space behind him in the second-half, though, so the jury is out as to whether he did enough to clamber above Robbie Brady and James McClean in the pecking order. 

Ireland’s first-half passing was drearily slow and desultory: too often they picked the safe option behind them rather than take a risk in possession and break through Norway’s 4-1-4-1. Ireland’s midfield was guileless but the whole team was indolent, summed up by a moment in the first-half when Bazunu rolled the ball quickly to Matt Doherty to break from a Norway set piece, only for Doherty to realise nobody had broken with him, and thus had to stall and send the ball back to Bazunu. 

Ireland’s young goalkeeper also showed worrying signs of dented confidence, almost putting his side in danger by misplacing a simple pass to Josh Cullen in midfield, breathing a sigh of relief when Jorgen Larsen snapped his shot over the crossbar. 

Norway weren’t bringing a whole lot to the affair either, though eased their way into the game just as the first-half was coming to a close. Some penalty-box pinball led to Nathan Collins diverting Mohamed Elyounoussi’s shot for a corner, from which Martin Odegaard dropped the ball right on the head of defender Leo Ostigard, who diverted the ball beyond Bazunu.  His arced penalty box was enough to shake off John Egan. 

Ireland mercifully shook off their torpor after half-time and should have found an equaliser by the hour mark. Robinson’s sudden spark to life distilled Ireland’s, and his cross was diverted narrowly wide of the post by John Egan’s improvised effort. Moments later it was Norway’s Morten Thorsby who was clumsily diverting the ball beyond the post, coming close to scoring Ireland’s goal for them. Browne should have scored too, running onto a flicked header and driving his close-range volley right at the splayed form of goalkeeper Orjan Nyland. 

Soon Browne found his range from further back. O’Dowda drove to the endline and whipped in his best cross of the night, which Norway headed clear but only to Browne 20 yards from goal. The ball kicked up perfectly for him to cut across it and send a delightful shot skidding into the bottom corner. 

But then again Ireland sank back to their awful passivity. The game seemed to be petering out to a draw, with Norway showing little ambition to chase a winner until it was presented to them five minutes from the end. Odegaard hoisted a free-kick into the box which Collins didn’t deal with, allowing substitute Ohi Omoijuanfo blast the ball beyond Bazunu first-time. 

evan-ferguson-comes-on-to-make-his-international-debut Ryan Byrne / INPHO Evan Ferguson comes on for his debut. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Evan Ferguson was introduced with two minutes of normal time remaining for his senior debut, but hardly had a touch as Ireland wilted as an attacking force. This game my in future be remembered for Ferguson’s debut, because it otherwise won’t be remembered at all. 

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Nathan Collins, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty; Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick, 81’), Alan Browne (Evan Ferguson, 88’); Callum O’Dowda (Robbie Brady, 73’); Callum Robinson, Michael Obafemi (Chiedozie Ogbene, 73’)

 Norway: Orjan Nyland; Marcus Pedersen (Julian Ryerson, 65’), Stefan Strandberg, Leo Ostigard, Fredrik Andre Bjorkan (Birger Meling, 65’); Patrick Berg (Stian Gregersen, 90’); Ola Solbakken (Kristoffer Zachariassen, 63’) Martin Odegaard (captain), Morten Thorsby (Ola Bryndhilsen, 73’), Mohamed Elyounoussi; Jorgen Larsen (Ohi Omoijuanfo, 73’)

Attendance: 41,140 

Referee: Allard Lindhout (NED)

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