COVID-hit Norway to send team to face Austria in Nations League showdown

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Norway will send a team to play Austria in their final Nations League group game on Wednesday despite the chaos that saw their match against Romania on Sunday cancelled following government intervention over a player’s positive COVID-19 test.

The Norwegian players were on their way to the airport on Saturday to catch a chartered flight to Bucharest when authorities told them that such a journey would breach the country’s stringent coronavirus measures because a player in the squad had tested positive.

That match was cancelled late on Saturday and the players originally called up left Oslo on scheduled flights on Sunday morning, leaving the country’s football association scrambling to form a new squad for Wednesday’s group decider against Austria.

In a statement late on Sunday, the Norwegian Football Federation said the game against Austria would now go ahead and a new squad coached by U21 boss Leif Gunnar Smerud would be presented at a press conference on Monday morning.

The players selected will fly to Oslo and observe a strict quarantine at an airport hotel before departing for the game, the NFF explained.

Austria, who beat Northern Ireland 2-1 on Sunday, top Group 1 in League B on 12 points ahead of Norway, who are second on nine points.

The Norwegians are likely to be handed a 3-0 defeat by UEFA after their no-show in Romania, but they could still win the group if they beat Austria on Wednesday by a margin of two goals or more.

“These have been demanding assessments, but we are now happy that the match can be played, both sportingly and out of consideration for our obligations to UEFA and the tournament we participate in,” NFF general secretary Pal Bjerketvedt said.

Winning the group would mean Norway gets promoted to the top flight of the Nations League and provide another possible route to the World Cup finals, which they have not qualified for since 1998.

“Despite a special entrance (into the job), I look forward to meeting the players, who in a chaotic situation have responded with great good will to help the national team in a demanding situation,” acting coach Smerud said.

“It’s now about preparing ourselves for a good performance against Austria.”

Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Ed Osmond and Sam Holmes