Norway are scrambling to save their Nations League campaign by pulling together a second squad after a row over COVID-19 precautions with the country’s health ministry caused the cancellation of Sunday’s game away to Romania.
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 FA to try to cobble together a new squad for Wednesday’s group decider away to Austria.
“We are working with an alternative team, yes, but we’re not sure if we will make it,” Norwegian FA spokesperson Christer Madsen told Reuters via text message.
That means replacing leading players such as striker Erling Haaland and playmaker Martin Odegaard with foreign-based players who were not named in the original squad.
Austria top Group 1 in League B on nine points thanks to their 2-1 win over Norway, who also have nine points, in Oslo in September.
The Austrians can take a three-point lead if they beat Northern Ireland on Sunday but Norway, who are likely to be handed a 3-0 defeat by UEFA after their no-show in Romania, could still win the group if they beat Austria on Wednesday by a margin of two goals or more.
Other countries have made exceptions to quarantine rules, with Iceland granted permission to travel to England following their game in Denmark, despite a ban being in place on other travellers.
However, Norway prime minister Erna Solberg poured cold water on the idea that an exception might be made for the country’s soccer team.
“The national team is in quarantine, and we are strict. It is the cornerstone of the measures that means that we have not had to shut down as much as other countries,” Solberg told reporters.
“If the national team had been granted an exception, the pressure would have come in all other areas. The quarantine of infection is at the core of our work to prevent the spread,” she said.
Winning the group would mean Norway getting 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.