Two sides that will spend the European Championships next summer as armchair spectators face each other in Cardiff on Saturday, as both Wales and Norway attempt to put disappointing qualifying campaigns behind them and look towards the road to Brazil in 2014.
For the Welsh, like every one since 1958, it is yet another major tournament that will pass them by, but a qualifying group that began in miserable fashion with John Toshack in charge has ended with genuine cause for optimism.
Manager Gary Speed may have taken a few matches to get to grips with the task, losing his first three games scoring just one goal, but for the first time in years Wales have reasons to be positive. With a talented and youthful squad, particularly in midfield areas, Speed has the nucleus of a good team and the results are starting to prove as much: Wales have won four of their last six games.
Instrumental to that run has been Aaron Ramsey, who at 20 is Wales’ youngest ever captain. Some questioned Speed’s choice, but the decision to herald a promising new era by making the most promising young player the skipper is paying dividends. Playing fantastically well for Arsenal, Ramsey is Wales’ top scorer under Speed with three goals, which makes the 10/1 he scores first against a limited Norway side on Saturday a bet of real interest.
By encouraging a passing game throughout the side and giving Ramsey licence to roam the pitch as he sees fit, Speed has brought the best out of the youngster and with it the rest of the team. As well as getting forward at every opportunity, Ramsey should also be on penalty duty, which also brings the 11/4 he scores at any time firmly into play.
Gareth Bale is another who is flourishing under Speed at the moment, although you would imagine Bale would flourish under almost any circumstances such is his talent. Brilliant for Tottenham this term, he has scored in the last two Wales games and has to be under consideration at 8/1 to score first and 9/4 to notch at any time.
As for Norway, they may have only just missed out on a play-off place (they finished level on points with Portugal in Group H) but they remain a side that relies on perspiration rather than inspiration. They scored just ten goals in eight games, with no player scoring more than twice.
Relying on solid rather than spectacular players like John Arne Riise and Morten Gamst Pedersen only gets you so far, although Norway coach Egil Olsen may have found a goalscorer in Mohammed Abdellaoue.
The Hannover striker has scored eight times in the Bundesliga this season and has scored four international goals in the last twelve months. He is 6/1 to score first and 17/10 to score at any time.
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