Scotland assistant coach Steven Pressley has warned his players to be wary of the aerial threat Norway pose as they prepare to clash at Oslo's Ullevaal Stadium in their crucial Group 9 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying match on Wednesday.
The Norwegian attack is likely to be spearheaded by Aston Villa's bulky striker John Carew and Steffen Iversen. They will face a new look Scotland defence with first choice keeper Craig Gordon and regular captain Stephen McManus both ruled out with injury.
The absence of Celtic's McManus has thrown the door open for Burnley player Steven Caldwell to partner his brother Gary in the centre of the Scottish defence. If Steven gets the nod from manager George Burley it will be his first cap since 2006 and the first time the Caldwell brothers have played in the same Scotland side since a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Macedonia nearly five years ago.
Whoever plays in Oslo they will have to defend an inexperienced keeper with likely replacements Neil Alexander of Rangers and Gordon Marshall of Cardiff City having only a handful of caps between them. But former Scotland player Pressley, himself a central defender who faced the Norwegians in Scotland's last two visits to the Scandanavian country, believes Scotland's squad is strong enough to claim a win that would take them closer to their first major tournament finals since 1998.
"The Norwegians are quite an aggressive team, and quite a physical team. They like to make you defend your box," Pressley said. "They have several players capable of delivering a long throw, and they have John Carew as a physical presence. They do like to get the ball into the box and ask questions of you defensively within your area, and you have to be prepared to stand up to that.
"There's no doubt we were asked to defend crosses and balls into our box in those games. I am not saying it will be an aerial bombardment but in my experience they ask questions of you defensively. But I think we've got the players capable of handling this and men who will relish this type of game."
Norway currently occupy bottom spot in the five team group but only trail the Scots by three points, with whom they drew 0-0 at Hampden earlier this year. The onus to attack is on Egil Olsen's side who need a win to rekindle their ambitions of overtaking Scotland and securing second-spot.
But a win for the Scots will strengthen their chances of claiming a place in the play-offs for South Africa in 2010 with two home games against Macedonia and run-away group winners the Netherlands to finish qualifying. And Pressley has targeted six points from the last three games as enough to take Scotland to the play-offs.
"It would be nice if it was nine out of nine, bearing in mind one second-placed side will not make it to the play-offs," Pressley said. "So this is a very, very important game for us because, if we do win it, then the runners-up place is within touching distance for us.
"The pressure, because of their position in the group, is on Norway to come and win. Nothing short of a victory for them will be a good result, so the onus is on them to come out, which suits us as a team." Scotland will have Scott Brown available after his successful return from injury in Celtic's match against Dynamo Moscow.