Group F high-fliers Northern Ireland visit Torshavn on Friday yet Faroe Islands coach Lars Olsen is optimistic about delivering a result for the hosts. Hans Pauli Joensen explains why.
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This is arguably the Faroe Islands' best team ever.
With six points so far in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying – harvested from their two Group F victories over Greece – the current campaign must rank as the Faroe Islands' most successful. Though they have twice before managed six points, as well as seven in 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification, those tallies were founded on wins against fellow minnows such as Luxembourg, San Marino and Malta. This time the points have come from the top-seeded team in the section, no less.
And with the 2004 European champions having been accounted for – 1-0 in Piraeus last November and 2-1 in Torshavn in June – in two of the Faroes' last three outings, who is to say they will stop there. Coach Lars Olsen certainly cuts a confident figure ahead of Friday's visit of second-placed Northern Ireland. "The way we have played in the last year, we can get a result against anyone. We can also get one against Northern Ireland," he said, the 1-0 away loss to leaders Romania in March barely denting his ambition.
Olsen's side lie fourth in the six-team Group F, yet this week he has defensive concerns, most notably a suspension to centre-back Atli Gregersen. Even so, the 54-year-old Dane believes he has enough versatile players in his squad to cover for any absences. "I can move a lot of them around because they have played in many different positions, so when I pick the team, I am fully covered," he explained. "We have ten outfield players, ten good back-up options and three goalkeepers."
With his side predominantly made up of part-timers, Olsen is without right-back Bárdur Hansen for this latest European Qualifiers double-header (the Faroes are also away to second-bottom Finland on Monday) because the player is set to qualify as an electrician. "Of course it's disappointing," said the coach, "but these players need to make a living, so it's understandable he has to take his exam now."
Gregersen and Hansen may be missing, yet the Tórsvøllur arena is a sell-out for Friday's meeting with a Northern Irish team who edged the Faroes 2-0 in Belfast last autumn. Tickets went on sale straight after the Greece home win – and promptly sold out in an unprecedented 16 hours. The fans have also guaranteed a full house for the Faroes' final match against Romania on 11 October, buying up the tickets in under two days during last month's sales window.
If football fever is running high in the Nordic nation right now, it is fair to say that Olsen and company have no intention of alleviating it.