Flat night in Dublin as Ireland fall to superior Norwegians

Republic of Ireland players appear dejected after Norway's Ohi Omoijuanfo (right) scores the winner in Dublin last night
From Brendan Crossan in Dublin

International friendly: Republic of Ireland 1 Norway 2

A LATE strike from Norway’s Ohi Omoijuanfo condemned the Republic of Ireland to their 12th loss in 29 games under Stephen Kenny – with very little to shout about in the Irish capital last night.

Apart from a couple of short spells in the second half that yielded an absolute belter of a goal from Alan Browne and hauled the home side level for roughly 20 minutes, it was a performance that was lacking in too many areas.

Last night’s encounter also proved that friendly internationals are definitely not a spectator’s sport. Even though there were 41,120 supporters in the Aviva Stadium, they didn’t really find their voice largely because the home side didn’t inspire them enough to do so.

Leo Ostigard gave Norway the lead on 41 minutes before Browne’s long range strike on 69 minutes levelled the tie up.

But nobody could say the visitors didn’t deserve the win when Omoijuanfo fired home after the ball fell kindly to him in Ireland’s penalty area with five minutes of normal time remaining.

In the last few minutes, it was Norway who looked like adding to their tally rather than Ireland levelling for a second time.

Kenny was able to name seven of the side that edged Armenia 3-2 in their final Nations League game in September, with the goalkeeper and central back three remaining the same.

Jayson Molumby, now with WBA, was retained in the central midfield with new partners Josh Cullen, returning from suspension, and Preston’s Alan Browne.

Ireland’s bench had plenty of experience among it too with Robbie Brady, James McClean and Seamus Coleman there, but only Brady saw some action.

The Norwegians, also left watching this month’s World Cup finals having finished third behind Holland and Turkey in qualification, were without Manchester City’s mercurial striker Erling Haaland, but Arsenal playmaker Martin Odergaard was in Dublin captaining the visitors with manager Stale Solbakken drawing players from the Dutch and Italian League.

And, for the most part, Odergaard was the one player on show who had that bit of genuine class about him, playing some lovely one touch passes that created stressful moments for Ireland’s defensive left side.

Indeed, it was the visitors who made all the early running. Gavin Bazunu seemed to have left his radar in Abbotstown. One of several misplaced passes almost led to a goal after 24 minutes.

He failed to find Josh Cullen with a 20-yard pass in central midfield, Odegaard gained possession before releasing Celta Vigo’s Jorgen Larsen, but the big striker fired over Ireland’s bar when he should have at least hit the target.

The home side didn’t produce any notable attacking moments in drab opening 45 minutes that reminded Irish supporters that friendly matches are sometimes better observed at full-time.

For the fans, this was a game to be endured rather than enjoyed, especially with another friendly in Malta coming up on Sunday and the real competitive action not resuming until next March against Euro 2024 qualification opponents France.

Ireland’s play was too slow, too lateral and risk-averse with nobody in green prepared to take a chance and commit the Norwegian defence.

Callum O’Dowda threatened a couple of times but was too tentative. Matt Doherty didn’t fare much better on the opposite flank. Arguably Ireland’s two best chances for goals – Michael Obafemi and Alan Browne – could have counted their touches on one hand in the first half.

Towards the end of the first period, the signs were becoming ominous for Kenny’s men.

Nathan Collins made a good block from Southampton’s lively wide man Mohamed Elyounoussi and from the resulting corner from Odegaard, Napoli defender Leo Ostigard nodded home with four minutes of the first half remaining.

Initially, it looked as though John Egan was slow off the mark to spot the danger - but television pictures showed his covering run being cleverly blocked by another Norway player and Ostigard couldn’t miss.

It took a yawning 51 minutes for the Irish to carve out a decent chance.

O’Dowda’s improvised chip found Callum Robinson and his cross somehow reached an unsuspecting Egan at the back post who had no time to adjust his feet as the ball tumbled a yard wide of Norway’s right upright.

It proved the start of a two-minute onslaught from Ireland.

Some nifty footwork from Obafemi and smart cross was almost turned into Norway’s net by defender Morten Thorsby. Seconds later, Molumby did brilliantly to win a header on the edge of the visitors’ box but Alan Browne’s effort was charged down by ‘keeper Orjan Nyland.

Entertainment threatened to break out – and Norway nearly doubled their lead on 58 minutes, but Ola Solbakken’s left-footed shot from close range was well saved by the alert Bazunu.

And just when the game was beginning to fall snugly into a comfortable night for Norway, Browne arrowed home a beautiful strike from 25 yards that nestled in the corner of the net.

But the Irish never really pushed on and although they had more possession, they didn’t make it count in the final third.

The home side would have gladly settled for a draw but Omoijuanfo denied them towards the end.

It’s on to Malta on Sunday – with the hope of some cheer before the real action begins in March.

Irish ratings

Gavin Bazunu: Winning his 13th cap, the Southampton keeper’s distribution was poor at times, and almost gifted the Norwegians a first half goal. Made a decent second-half stop. Has had better nights for Ireland. 5

Matt Doherty: You always expect more from the Spurs man but he rarely convinces at international level. Put a couple of decent crosses in but lacked urgency. 4

Callum O’Dowda: A bit tentative down Ireland’s left flank in the opening half, but was more decisive after the break before being withdrawn. 5

John Egan: Appeared to be slightly impeded for Norway’s first half goal with Leo Ostigard heading home on 41 minutes. Solid defensively after that. 6

Nathan Collins: Made a brave first half block and was always a danger when he went forward. Might have been stronger though when Norway pounced for their second goal. As important to this Irish team now as Egan. 6

Dara O’Shea: A competent defensive operator who is probably more comfortable in a flat back four. Some troubling moments down his flank. 5

Josh Cullen: Tried to knit Ireland’s play from his defensive midfield position but also had to be mindful Martin Odegaard who was stationed to his left. A lot of grass to cover. 6

Jayson Molumby: Tenacious as ever and did well to retain possession when under pressure, but maybe needed to be a little closer to Cullen in the first half to get on the ball and face the play. Work-rate exceptional. 6

Alan Browne: Always worth a goal. Grabbed his fifth in 26 appearances and it was a beauty from distance. Doesn’t get on the ball a lot but does his best work in the final third. 6

Michael Obafemi: Anonymous first half but at least tried to make the pitch bigger by lying up on Norway’s last man. Had one good moment in the second half that nearly led to an own goal. 5

Callum Robinson: Full of industry and threatened in the early stages; a lot of huff and puff but very little in the way of creativity in the first half. Had some better moments in the second half. 5.5


Robbie Brady: Sprightly introduction and had some good moments in the left wing back role. 5

Chiedozie Ogbene: Looked sharp for the quarter of an hour he was on the pitch. 5

Jeff Hendrick: Straight swap for Molumby but didn’t see much of the ball. 5

Evan Ferguson: Senior debut. Not on long enough to be rated.