Gibraltar get their World Cup Qualifying campaign underway when they host Norway at the Victoria Stadium tonight.
Photo (C) Black and Burst
The match, which is Gibraltar’s first ever World Cup Qualifier on home soil (the qualifiers for Russia 2018 saw Gibraltar play in Faro, Portugal), is also Julio Ribas’ sides first match since securing promotion from the Nations League back in November 2020. Norway will undoubtedly pose a different challenge to that of San Marino and Liechtenstein though, especially if Dortmund’s in-form striker Erling Haaland starts up front.
Speaking at the press conference yesterday, Ribas confirmed that he had picked a slightly bigger squad than normal, partly due to the fact Gibraltar have three matches in six days, but also due to the requirements to have players tested for Covid-19 in case of any late withdrawals from his 23-man squad on matchday.
There appeared, at least from the press conference, to be a clear emphasis on youth from the Uruguayan manager, with Europa’s 17-year-old striker Dylan Borge, as well as 20-year-old Julian Valarino, on loan at Lynx from Lincoln, both facing the press for the first time ahead of potential senior debuts at international level. Valarino spoke about the importance of having a manager who trusts young players, citing examples such as Tjay De Bar and Ethan Britto, while Borge, who has had a breakout season domestically scoring nine goals in 11 appearances, despite only playing the full 90 minutes once, credited both his club manager and Ribas for him being where he is now.
For the visitors, there could be an interesting moment either before or during the game, with manager Stale Solbakken confirming in his pre-match press conference, which was held in Marbella where his side are based, that they would protest the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, with Norway aiming to highlight the human rights situation in the Middle-Eastern country. The manager held his cards to his chest in terms of how the protest may take place, but confirmed it would be happening.
The Norwegian squad has a number of familiar names – while Haaland has established himself as one of the finest strikers in world football aged just 20, there will also be the likes of Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard, RB Leipzig striker Alexander Sorloth and Everton attacker Josh King who will potentially be starting to test the Gibraltar backline.
Norway go into this game as big favourites at 1/33, while despite home advantage, Gibraltar can be found at between 40/1 to 80/1 depending on the bookmaker. Should Haaland start, he will be fancied to score and is 7/5 to open the scoring, while the odds on Both Teams To Score is currently 4/1 – a tempting price given Gibraltar have scored at least one goal in each of their last four internationals at the Victoria Stadium (against Georgia, Switzerland, San Marino & Liechtenstein respectively).
FG’s Predicted XI’s:
Gibraltar: Coleing; Sergeant, Wiseman, Chipolina, Mouelhi, Olivero; Walker, Annesley, Badr, De Barr; Styche
Norway: Jarstein; Ryerson, Ajer, Strandberg, Aleesami; Hauge, Fossum, Odegaard, Midtsjo; Haaland, Sorloth