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Defeat in Olso but Northern Ireland are in the play-offs

Credit: Pacemaker

Northern Ireland finished off their Group C World Cup European qualifying campaign with a 1-0 defeat in Norway on Sunday night.

However, before a ball was kicked in Olso, Michael O'Neill's men knew they had secured a play-off place following Scotland's 2-2 away draw to Slovenia.

In what has been a brilliant campaign, the 19 points amassed by Northern Ireland earns them a place in the final eight best-placed runners-up. The defeat means we will have to wait for the remaining games to be played on Monday and Tuesday to see just where that leaves Northern Ireland in terms of seeding.

The draw will be made on October 17.

Norway's direct long ball approach had Northern Ireland on the back foot in the early stages.

Credit: Pacemaker

But it was not long before O'Neill's side carved out a chance when Oliver Norwood, winning his 50th cap, fed Josh Magennis and his dangerous delivery into the box was cleared away from goal. A minute later a poor clearance fell to Steve Davis who chested it down, but his volley lacked power to trouble Nyland in the Norway goal.

The home side had their fair share of possession and on 29 minutes Henriksen saw his shot from an acute angle blocked by Gareth McAuley. Davis did well to skip past two defenders and his cross was heading for Conor Washington a few yards from goal but Nordtveit nipped in to clear the danger.

Norway almost took the lead on 35 minutes, Northern Ireland cleared their lines from a corner - the ball broke for Meling whose half volley came through a ruck of players, but Michael McGovern did well to divert the ball round the post.

Straight down to the other end and Davis advanced into the Norway half and unleashed a shot from distance that Nyland could only carry back into the six-yard-box. He recovered to smother the ball as Washington closed in. George Saville started the second half in place of Norwood and three minutes in the Millwall man could and should have scored. He did well to win the ball, linked up with Washington but when the return pass came he tried to continue his run instead of shooting and was closed down. McGovern produced a superb reaction save to deny Reginiussen, the rebound fell to Soderlund who found the net, but the flag was up for offside. Norway continued to have the upper hand with the pressure was relentless as Northern Ireland found it hard to get out of their own area.

Credit: Pacemaker

With 20 minutes to go Norway took the lead. Johansen did well to dig out a cross which looped over McGovern's hand and Chris Brunt diverted into his own net in trying to prevent the goal.

Northern Ireland tried to respond immediately with Stuart Dallas forcing a save out of Nyland and then Brunt flashed a shot inches wide. The best chance to snatch an equaliser came six minutes from the end when the ball broke to Saville a few yards out but he blazed the ball high over the bar.

Indeed it was Norway who should have added to their lead in added time when first Elyonoussi forced a smart save out of McGovern and then Sorloth followed up firing just wide of the post. Right on the final whistle Soderlund drove the ball past McGovern, but once again the flag was up and it did not count. Regardless of this result Northern Ireland fans know their team are just two games away from reaching the 2018 finals in Russia.