Bert van Marwijk’s first match in charge as Caltex Socceroos boss sees his side take on tricky European outfit Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion on Saturday, March 24 (AEDT).
With a chance for his players to stake a claim for a spot on the plane to Russia in June, it’s an important hit-out for the Caltex Socceroos leading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
And with Norway’s squad also including some world-class talent, there will be some exciting match-ups right across the park in Oslo.
We take a look at four of those key battles which could decide which side comes out on top.
Joshua King v Bailey Wright
The Norwegian striker is a clubmate of Aussie Brad Smith at AFC Bournemouth and is likely to lead the attack for Lars Lagerbäck’s side.
King, who was once on the books of Manchester United, has a good record at international level with 10 goals in 31 appearances and has the ability to get in behind with his searing pace.
And Wright is the man likely to get the job on King given he’s battle-hardened and playing regularly as skipper of Bristol City in the Championship.
The 25-year-old loves the one-on-one battle and will relish the opportunity to test himself against an EPL striker.
Stefan Johansen v Aaron Mooy
Now a regular in Norway’s midfield, 27-year-old Johansen is a box-to-box player who is technically strong and never shirks a tackle.
A former team-mate of Tom Rogic at Celtic, Johansen is now a key cog for Championship outfit Fulham, who are one of the favourites to gain promotion to the EPL for next season.
His clash with Aussie star Aaron Mooy should be a beauty. Mooy is arguably the Caltex Socceroos’ most important player with his uncanny ability to keep possession and bring his team-mates into action.
And his deadly set-piece ability could be an avenue for Bart van Marwijk’s men to have some joy in Oslo.
Mohamed Elyounoussi v Aziz Behich
One of the fresh stars of this Norway side, Elyounoussi is a classy winger/attacker who plays for Swiss side Basel but has caught the eye of some big clubs in Europe.
Especially after his man-of-the-match display in the Champions League against Manchester City recently, where he scored and set up another as his side won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium to become the first team to beat Pep Guardiola’s men at home since late 2016.
Elyounoussi can play on either flank, has great dribbling skills and is proficient with both feet, making him a tricky customer to contain.
He’s likely to start on the right and come up against Turkey-based Behich.
The 27-year-old is probably Australia’s first-choice left-back right now and has never let anyone down in the green and gold shirt.
While Behich is up for a huge challenge defensively, he’ll also ask plenty of questions going the other way as well making this an eye-catching match-up.
Martin Odegaard v Mile Jedinak
It says a lot about the quality of Norway’s teenage midfielder that he was signed by Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid as a 17-year-old.
Now 19, Odegaard is on-loan at Dutch outfit Heerenveen and is starting to realise his undoubted potential. In this Norway side, he’s the one that will try to set the tempo and provide the ammunition for the attacking players in front of him.
Can he produce against the Caltex Socceroos’ inspirational skipper? Jedinak is often the man charged with shutting down the opposition’s most influential player and is rarely beaten.
Whichever of these two has the better night might just see their side dominate the crucial midfield battle.
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