Norway and Hungary kick off the playoff round tonight, as four teams will look to stamp their way to France over the next five days. Twenty teams have made it already and both Norway and Hungary hope to include their name in the draw.
Here is the preview of the first game tonight and of course this prediction is sure to go wrong:
Norway – Hungary (1st leg tonight in Oslo, 2nd leg Sunday night in Budapest)
Regardless of who wins this two-legged tie it will be a major achievement for either nation. Norway has not qualified for a major tournament since the Euro 2000, while Hungary has had to wait even longer – their last appearance was 1986 World Cup.
Norway has had a more impressive qualification and narrowly missed out on qualifying as one of the top 2 seeds in the group stage by losing to Italy on final match day. Croatia’s win in Malta took them a point above Norway and sent the Scandinavians to the playoff round. Norway’s highlight of the qualifying round was the 2:0 home win against aforementioned Croatia while the lowlight was that same matchup, where they got demolished 5:1 in Zagreb. They also lost to Italy both games but managed to win when they were expected to win, against the likes of Malta, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
Hungary had a decent qualification but was never really in the mix of qualifying automatically, as both Northern Ireland and Romania were the better sides over the course of qualifying. They will go into the matchup against Norway as the slight underdog but a good result in Oslo will be crucial for their chance of advancing. Just like Norway they have had problems scoring goals and that will most likely be the case again. If they are able to score one in Oslo that would set them up for the return leg in Budapest with a realistic chance of advancing.
Norway will be the favorite in this game and rightfully so, they beat Croatia at home rather easily and even gave Italy a stern test in Oslo before losing 2:0. They will be disappointed about not qualifying directly to France but still confident since they gave Italy all they could handle in the last match (2:1 loss in Rome). It will be not easy cracking the Hungary defense (they’ve only lost one game in qualifying while conceding 9 goals) but Norway has enough quality in the team to do just that tonight. It will be a tight game in Oslo with Norway prevailing by a single goal, possibly even from a set piece.
Prediction: Norway 1 – 0 Hungary