Erling Haaland must move on from Borussia Dortmund to take his game to the next level, according to former Bayern Munich defender Patrik Andersson.

Haaland joined Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg after the Bundesliga side met his €20 million release clause in December 2019.

Since then, the 21-year-old has registered 50 goals in as many games in the German top flight, netting 1.12 times on average per 90 minutes.

Indeed, since the Norway international's Dortmund debut on January 18, 2020, only Robert Lewandowski (98) has scored more than Haaland (71) among players from Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

But Andersson, who racked up over 200 Bundesliga appearances across spells with Bayern and Borussia Monchengladbach, believes Haaland must move on to further his game.

Asked to compare Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Haaland, two-time Bundesliga winner Andersson told Stats Perform: "First of all, it was a question about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Erling Halaand and talking about taking the next step to reach the next level. 

"You should never compare such good players because both of them are unique in their own way. Haaland is just at the beginning of a great career and Zlatan is at the other end. 

"But I think, what is football about? It's about winning, winning titles and he's had a really good development at Dortmund but personally, I think he needs to move to reach the next level. 

"When you play, for instance, for Sweden or Norway, you're not in the position to maybe win the World Cup or a European Championship, so for him winning big titles and maybe by moving to another league he could reach this little level."

 

Haaland has already reached a level above most of those at his age, given no other player has reached the 50-goal Bundesliga milestone in as few appearances or at such a young age (21 years, four months and six days).

Andersson appreciates the quality of the former Molde striker but believes he must find a team and coach befitting of his own personality to kick-on and reach the summit of world football.

"I think from his quality he is technically there, he's really strong, he's fast, he scores goals, he sets up players, but it's more about finding a really good team [and] surroundings," he continued.

"For him as a young player also, [it is important] to have a coach who really relies on him, to give him confidence, pushing him, so not so much talking about leagues."

Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Netherlands wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Netherlands head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip due to growing coronavirus cases.

Despite a tense game, the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since Euro 2020, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk made a team-high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said Van Dijk.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Oranje wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

He cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip.

Despite a tense game the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since the European Championships, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dijk made a team high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled. Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said the Liverpool defender.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay made sure of the Netherlands' place at the 2022 World Cup with late goals in a 2-0 victory against Norway on Tuesday.

Turkey's 2-1 win against Montenegro kept the pressure on the Netherlands, but they still needed only a point to secure their qualification and got more than that in the closing stages at De Kuip.

Bergwijn netted with six minutes left when he fired high into the net before Depay put the result beyond doubt with a goal on the break in injury time.

While the Oranje finished as Group G winners, Norway slipped to third and missed out on a place in the play-offs having failed to register a shot on target across the entire contest.

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal insisted his "brain still works" following a bike accident left him temporarily in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal suffered a hip injury after falling off his bicycle on Sunday and oversaw Monday's training session from a golf buggy ahead of the Netherlands' crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway.

The Netherlands require at least a draw from their Group G decider on Tuesday to clinch a berth at Qatar 2022.

Van Gaal, who will be able to coach his nation when the Netherlands and Norway clash in Rotterdam, was keen to stress his brain remains intact following the incident.

"Physically, I'm bad. But my brain still works," former Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss Van Gaal told reporters via video link.

Asked if it hurt a lot, Van Gaal replied: "Yes, a lot. That's why I'm in a wheelchair. That's why I led the training session from my buggy.

"Look, it's the lesser trochanter, that’s a bone, and that's broken. And the iliopsoas, that’s a muscle, is attached to that. That's a stabilising muscle. I hope you can all understand what I'm saying.

"I had to learn about every single bone in the human body when I used to study for gymnastics teacher. That comes in handy now."

"I can do everything, because my brain works. There are things I can use, such as that buggy and my wheelchair. I look stupid, I know that too," the 70-year-old added. "But coaching is verbal, and you use your brain to do so. And the presentation has to convince the squad."

Netherlands star Virgil van Dijk added: "It's just sad and unfortunate for him. He now has to recover the next weeks.

"It's a physical thing, luckily it's not mental. He is still focused on reaching the World Cup, like we all are."

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Memphis Depay had Group G leaders the Netherlands on track before Montenegro overturned the two-goal deficit.

The Netherlands will now look to clinch against a Norway side missing injured superstar Erling Haaland.

Van Gaal acknowledged Haaland's absence changes the dynamic of the fixture.

"Haaland has the quality to always show up behind a defence," Van Gaal said. "He also did so in their home game against us, three of four times. That were also their only chances.

"Now, they'll have to find another solution. At least, that's what they'll be trying to do. But Haaland has specific qualities that they'll miss now. We can, in principal, play a bit further from our own goal now too."

The Netherlands will have to do without the injured Stefan de Vrij when they face Norway in a decisive World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

De Vrij suffered a hamstring injury in the closing stages of the Oranje's 2-2 away to Montenegro on Saturday and was replaced by Matthijs de Ligt.

The Inter centre-back has now been ruled out of the Netherlands' final Group G game against third-placed Norway at De Kuip, so De Ligt is set to starting alongside captain Virgil van Dijk.

Coach Louis van Gaal has not called up a replacement for De Vrij.

The Netherlands lead Norway and Turkey – who are away to Montenegro on Tuesday – by two points, and a draw should be enough for them to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year due to their far superior goal difference.

It appeared to be mission accomplished for the group leaders when Memphis Depay's double put them in control at Podgorica City Stadium, but late goals from Ilija Vukotic and Nikola Vujnovic prevented them from getting the job done.

The Netherlands will not have the backing of a partisan crowd against Norway, as the game in Rotterdam will be played behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips as Europe's elite try to get their hands on the Borussia Dortmund and Norway sensation.

Haaland is already on the cusp of half a century of Bundesliga goals, having scored 49 in 49 league appearances since swapping Salzburg for Dortmund in January 2020.

It is a remarkable return – the 21-year-old has 70 goals in 69 games for the German club overall, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (89 goals in 74 games) has a better return among players from Europe's top-five leagues.

Haaland has always been a goalscorer.

Born in Leeds in 2000, where his father Alf-Inge played for Leeds United in the Premier League at the time, Erling relocated to Bryne by the age of three – the hometown of his parents in Norway.

It is there where Erling Haaland took his first steps in football.

Alf Ingve Berntsen spent more than eight years coaching Haaland, including several matches for Byrne's first team in 2016 following the sudden departure of Gaute Larsen.

"He was the best from the first day. Scoring a lot, smiling a lot, training a lot," Berntsen told Stats Perform as he recalled Haaland's time at Byrne, where the pair worked together between the ages of eight to 16.

 

Haaland was part of a group of 40 talented youngsters coached by Berntsen at Bryne.

But Haaland – even playing with older kids – always stood out in a city with a population of just over 12,200 people on the southern shores of the lake Froylandsvatnet.

"A player of that level, you can spot the class from the first day… the first day you spot something special like Erling, one way or another. You can see it from the beginning," Berntsen said.

"In Norway we have a few big clubs who have academies and select best ones from a region. But most of the clubs, they have a big grassroots path. Our club is like that – part of is like a top club but a big part is grassroots. Often we try to hold them together.

"Erling was one of 40 players who trained together, in fact until they were 15. That was the first year we separated them. Erling was one year younger than the others because he was too good for his age group. He was 14. Twenty of them wanted to train four times a week and 20 wanted to train twice a week. Even then we kept them together. In that group, Erling was quite a normal guy. Funny and a desire to train and win. He was the best from the first day. Scoring a lot, smiling a lot, training a lot. He was quite similar to how he is today."

"He was quite average size but because he trained with older boys, he lacked a bit in his height. He wasn't small in size but he was skinny, very skinny," Berntsen said. "He had his growth spurt when he was 14-15. Until then, he was normal height. From 14 he started to grow very quick. He kept growing until we went to Molde. When you stop growing, it's time to develop your muscles. It's not always wise to do much building your muscles when you're growing. We knew this would happen because his family, his older brother, he is fast and strong, we knew when he was 11-12 that we had to wait some years, this was something special in the making."

After a brief period with Byrne's senior team, Haaland was lured to Molde in 2017 and after 20 goals in 50 appearances overall, the Norwegian was eventually lured to Salzburg two years later.

Haaland dazzled with Austrian giants Salzburg, scoring an absurd 29 goals in only 27 games across all competitions – he joined Alessandro del Piero, Sergei Rebrov, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewandowski as the only players to score in the first five matches of a Champions League group stage, while becoming the first teenager to achieve the feat.

He also scored nine times for Norway's Under-20 team in a 12-0 rout of Honduras at the 2019 U20 World Cup. Haaland did not see out a season at Salzburg, prised to Dortmund in January last year and he has not looked back.

In this season's Bundesliga, Haaland surpassed his expected goal (xG)-value by 2.9 (nine goals, 6.1 xG) – only Bayer Leverkusen sensation Florian Wirtz eclipsed his value (3.0), per Opta.

Since Haaland joined Dortmund, he exceeded his xG-value (38.7) in the Bundesliga by 10.3. It is the highest value of a player in Europe's top-five leagues in this time.

"He is very similar to now to when he was 11-12. He scores a lot. In that group, if there were 40 players, many of them were of good quality. Ten of the players with Erling, nine other players played in the region team. Four of them later came into the Under-18 national team. Erling had to conquer each training session, to win. He didn't have it always easy," Berntsen said.

"The personality and quality you see is quite similar. When he played with two defenders, they played for Norway U18 - they are strong and powerful. If he had to score in the training session, he had to be smart in his movement. Quite early he developed the smartness, the tactical ability. The whole of the group trained much outside the main session - in the indoor hall, hour after hour having fun. He gained very good technical skills.

"His mental skills were strong early. He was always more willing to win. The technical and mental part were very good. He lacked a bit physically. We knew to wait some years and this might explode. The personality, desire and passion is just what it was earlier."

 

"When he moved up to us, because of the quality of the group, he didn't have to be too high on his self because it wasn't too easy," Berntsen continued on Haaland's attitude and character. "We didn't know if we were going to lose or win in training.

"This is a small place where 12,000 live. everyone knows each other. He had to develop with no media around. It was a good place for him. No big attention. He had to train and develop without any disturbance because if you are in a big city and club, you can have a lot of attention and it isn't so easy. But here he could train with his friends and develop steady. His father had played in the Premier League, so in this area everyone knew who he was."

Since Haaland's arrival in Dortmund, he has scored 13 Bundesliga goals after carries – in Europe's top-five leagues, it is only bettered by six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi (15).

In the 2021-22 league campaign, Haaland is one of four players who has been involved on 10 open-play sequences which ended in a goal – together with Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric, Bayern veteran Thomas Muller and Wirtz.

While Berntsen predicted a great career, not even he could have envisaged the speed of Haaland's rise to the top amid links with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

"I didn't see that at this age that he would become top scorer in the Champions League like he did or score in each match at this level. But we're not surprised that he is doing well," Berntsen said.

"When he got the first possibility to play in the regions team, he was picked then the national team, you can play from 15, and he was picked and scored. He always kept scoring at a new level. At a time when he lacked a bit physically. We knew he would become strong and fast. Of course we didn't see that level at that early age. But many of us, we were quite sure he was going to have a good international career, from 12 years old."

He added: "When you're 21, the body isn't fully grown yet. It can develop in all aspects of the game but it's not too easy now because the level he is on is high already. But when you're trying on a daily basis, you train to get better. If you do that, you'll have a small percentage of growth.

"He is one of the new rising stars that can do a lot of different - high pressure, low pressure, he can run, smart in the box, quite good in offence and defence. The next generation of players will have that variety - not just one type on top. He can be a front man or in counter-attacks. That might be common in the future. You have quite good variants in quality. There are still things for him to develop."

Prior to matchday-three fixtures in the Champions League, only Lewandowski had scored more goals and a higher xG-value across all competitions in the top-five leagues this season than Haaland.

Dating back to his switch from Salzburg in 2020, Haaland eclipsed his xG-value in his Champions league performances by 4.1 – the highest value of a player in the Champions League in this time prior to the club's 4-0 rout at the hands of Ajax.

While only Lewandowski has been involved in more Champions League open-play sequences that ended in a goal than Haaland since the latter's transfer to Germany (before Dortmund and Bayern's fixtures this week).

When asked where Haaland – who has a return of 12 goals in 15 international appearances for Norway – would be best suited if he were to leave Dortmund, Berntsen replied: "There's not so many possibilities now. There may be a few clubs who can afford him. It's not for everyone.

"Erling and his family, they've done a brilliant job to select the next level. If he stays in Dortmund, if he was to end his career there, still he had a brilliant career because he's a funny guy from a little town. 

"Erling is down to earth. If you have a job and have big defenders knocking you down, you have to make a statement and prove yourself. He is a loveable guy and we are proud of him. Humble. If you asked me a year ago, I'd say maybe Spain or England but Spain or France now."

Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose asked to ease the pressure on Erling Haaland and let him recover from a thigh injury amid question marks over his availability for Norway ahead of their World Cup qualifiers.

Haaland was absent again as Dortmund defeated Augsburg 2-1 in the Bundesliga thanks to goals from Raphael Guerreiro and Julian Brandt on Saturday.

Dortmund sensation Haaland also missed last weekend's defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach and the Champions League victory over Sporting CP on Tuesday.

As Norway prepare for qualifiers against Turkey (October 8) and Montenegro (October 11) on the road to Qatar 2022, Rose stressed that both the national team and Dortmund need the 21-year-old forward back.

"It is not my job to finish someone's hope," Rose said following the victory over Augsburg. "All I can tell you about is the status quo. Erling has been trying to play for days now. Who knows him also knows that he always wants to play.

"He didn't make it for the Champions League. It started in Gladbach and didn't work today. And he told me very timely 'Manager, I would love to play, but I can't move the way I want to. I can't even walk'. 

"This is the status quo we are working with, and I think it would be clever if we could all stop speculating. I understand the Norwegian federation. He is a human being, not a machine. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We have to get him healthy for Borussia Dortmund but also for the Norway national team.

"We had two games without him now and at the moment, things don't look good for Norway either. This is also what Erling says, and we should release the pressure and not ask about his status every day. We should let him recover."

Haaland has scored 68 goals in 67 appearances for Dortmund since arriving from Salzburg in January 2020.

The in-demand Dortmund star opened the season by scoring 11 goals across seven games in all competitions.

Without Haaland, Dortmund recorded their eighth straight Bundesliga home triumph as Marco Reus teed up Brandt for the 51st-minute winner.

Dortmund captain Reus is the third Bundesliga player since detailed data collection to assist 100 goals in competitive matches after Thomas Muller (176) and Franck Ribery (132).

Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga, a point behind rivals Bayern Munich, who are due to host Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

Borussia Dortmund boss Marco Rose has welcomed Gareth Southgate's decision to leave Jude Bellingham out of England's latest squad.

Teenage midfielder Bellingham was a surprise omission from Southgate's 23-man group on Thursday after impressing for Dortmund in his second campaign at the club.

Southgate explained he left out the 18-year-old due to fears of burnout, with Manchester United's Mason Greenwood overlooked for the same reason.

Bellingham's 802 minutes of playing time this term is the most of any England-qualified player in Europe's top five leagues when taking all competitions into account.

Since making his Dortmund debut on September 14 last year, the Birmingham City academy product has played 56 matches, 43 of those coming from the start.

Rose is therefore grateful that the youngster will be given a chance to rest up.

"I think it's a good decision," Rose said at a news conference on Friday previewing his side's Bundesliga clash with Augsburg. "The reason is obvious to me.

"In spite of his capabilities, he is an 18-year-old and has very little rest. We have to take care of the boys and not burn them out. That's why I welcome the decision."

 

Bellingham's team-mate Erling Haaland will play no part in Saturday's visit of Augsburg as he continues to recover from a thigh injury that has ruled him out of the last two games.

Haaland has been named in Norway's squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers against Turkey and Montenegro, but Rose revealed the striker will not link up with his national side.

"We're going to keep him here for the time being and make the best possible use of the time," Rose said.

"He's asked every day when he can return, so the rest will do him good. He's going to stay here for the time being."

The loss of Haaland for another game will be a major blow for Dortmund, as he has scored 68 goals in 67 games since making his debut in January 2020.

Only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski, with 86 goals in 71 games in all competitions, has scored more times during that period among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Dortmund have won their past three Bundesliga home matches against Augsburg, with their only defeat in the last 10 meetings coming in February 2015. 

Louis van Gaal has warned his Netherlands side that they still have some way to go before they can consider themselves "top of the world".

The Oranje drew 1-1 with Norway in World Cup qualifying Group G on Wednesday in Van Gaal's first match back in his third spell as coach of his country.

Erling Haaland opened the scoring at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo, but Davy Klaassen equalised in the first half.

The result leaves both the Netherlands and Norway a point behind Group G leaders Turkey, who were held to a 2-2 draw by Montenegro.

Van Gaal was not happy with his side's display and urged them to be more creative.

"We may think that this Dutch team is the top of the world, but it is not," he told NOS. "We have to function as a team. Norway has played very well as a team. Then you have to show the creativity that we lacked today.

"We lost the ball too carelessly in situations that we didn't have to. That is because the opposing team has defended in a very compact space. Then it is not so easy. Then you have to be very creative and firm on the ball, but we were not.

"I think Norway did a fantastic job. We were careless and that should not have been allowed, but that is also due to Norway's playing style.

"We have to make sure that we can play the ball around. I also said that at half-time we had to show courage and wait for the moment that we could play in depth, but we didn't succeed."

Van Gaal opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Steven Berghuis and full debutant Cody Gakpo starting either side of Memphis Depay in attack.

Berghuis was replaced by Donyell Malen at half-time following a disappointing opening 45 minutes that saw the Ajax man fail to register a shot on goal.

Van Gaal was less than impressed by his side's wide players, but insists it is too early to abandon the formation.

"I think it's going too far to say after one game that we can't play 4-3-3," he added.

"That has to do with the form of the day of the players. But I said in advance that we are meagre at the outsides. That has become apparent today.

"If you are careless, you will not reach the goal.

"Working with young people keeps me young, that's why I like it. Also the tension of the competition. Too bad the execution was not so good."

The Netherlands are in action again on Saturday when they host Montenegro. 

Erling Haaland was on target as Louis van Gaal had to settle for a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Norway in his first match back in charge of the Netherlands.

Haaland opened the scoring with his first goal of Norway's qualifying campaign at the Ullevaal Stadion on Wednesday, but Davy Klaassen equalised in the first half.

Prolific Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland struck the post in the second half in Oslo, where neither side could fashion a winner.

A draw in Van Gaal's first game in his third spell as coach of his country leaves both the Netherlands and Norway a point behind Group G leaders Turkey, who were held to a 2-2 draw by Montenegro.

Cody Gakpo was handed a first Netherlands start and he had two early chances to open the scoring, Andre Hansen palming his header wide before the forward bent a shot wide from just outside the penalty area.

Oranje debutant Justin Bijlow came out quickly and made himself big to deny Haaland when Jens Hauge sent him clear with an incisive pass, but the Dortmund frontman put Norway in front 20 minutes in.

Memphis Depay was at fault, losing possession in his own half, and Haaland controlled a ball over the top from Stefan Strandberg before poking into the far corner with his left foot as returning captain Virgil van Dijk's desperate last-ditch tackle was in vain.

The Netherlands responded well and they were level nine minutes before the break, Klaassen bursting into the box to convert Georginio Wijnaldum's cross from close range.

Depay stung Hansen's palms and Donyell Malen, who replaced Steven Berghuis at half-time, flashed a shot wide as the Oranje dictated the play after the interval.

Haaland ought to have restored Norway's lead on the break after 64 minutes, when he rattled the inside of the post with a left-foot strike after Martin Odegaard slipped him in.

Denzel Dumfries missed a great chance to snatch all three points with the last kick of the game, but a late Montenegro equaliser was a boost for both sides.

 

 

 

Virgil van Dijk was flattered by Erling Haaland's belief the Netherlands captain is "the best defender" in the world.

The pair are set to face off when the Oranje travel to Norway for their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

An intriguing duel should challenge both players, with Haaland full of praise for Van Dijk when he addressed the media on Monday.

"I think he is the best defender. I think quite a few others in the room agree with me on that," the Borussia Dortmund forward said.

"He is fast, strong and smart, and those are three important things you must have."

Those comments were on Tuesday put to Van Dijk, who replied: "Did he say that? That's nice of him."

The Liverpool man is relishing his return to the international stage, having missed Euro 2020 due to injury.

"I'm incredibly happy that I'm here again, with the guys, working towards a very important game," Van Dijk said.

"Everyone is sharp, looking forward to playing. Everyone is focused, which is great to see."

This will also be the Netherlands' first game since the return of Louis van Gaal, who is back for a third spell in charge.

Norway are tied with the visitors on six points from three games in Group G, one shy of early leaders Turkey.

Norway's players will face no disciplinary action from FIFA for their decision to wear T-shirts with the message 'Human rights on and off the pitch' to show their support for migrant workers in Qatar.

Ahead of Wednesday's 3-0 victory over Gibraltar in the opening game of their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign, Norway's team – including star striker Erling Haaland and playmaker Martin Odegaard, who is also captain – wore the T-shirts during the national anthems.

Odegaard had said before the game that the team were planning to make their feelings clear, with Norwegian clubs having pressurised the country's football association to boycott the upcoming World Cup, which takes place in November and December next year.

These objections followed a report in The Guardian newspaper in February revealing that over 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010, seeing off competition from the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

The report also suggested that the actual death toll would be much higher, due to a lack of data from a number of countries such as the Philippines and Kenya, while deaths that occurred late in 2020 were not accounted for.

In response, the Qatar organising committee stated: "We deeply regret all of these tragedies and investigated each incident to ensure lessons were learned. We have always maintained transparency around this issue and dispute inaccurate claims around the number of workers who have died on our projects."

The Qatari government, meanwhile, insisted the mortality rate was "within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population".

In the warm-up, Norway's players wore T-shirts with a different message: 'Respect on and off the pitch'.

FIFA's laws prohibit players from bearing "any political, religious or personal slogans", but in this instance, football's governing body has confirmed Norway will not have a case to answer.

"FIFA believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good," a statement read.

"No disciplinary proceedings in relation to this matter will be opened by FIFA."

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