Stephen Kenny is going to the World Cup as a spectator, his players, at home, watching along with the rest of us on television, as the top footballing nations of the world gather in Qatar for the unique winter tournament.

What better motivation for this Ireland squad to focus the minds on March and the quest to qualify for the next major football tournament, Euro 2024?

The final gathering of the squad ahead of the 2023 qualifying campaign as Ireland host Norway before heading to Malta at the weekend to finish off with another game on Sunday evening.

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Of all the opponents that could have come to Dublin for this friendly international, it's only apt that it is a side akin to the Norwegians, offering the entertainment very much in the style of the UEFA Nations League, which has become part of the European footballing diet in recent years.

And despite initial reservations, pretty much across the board, the competition designed to consign the international friendly to history has become quite the gauge of where Ireland stand within the middle echelons of the game.

Ireland are currently ranked 49th on the FIFA list, or the 24th European nation, while Norway sit seven places higher in 42nd place, with just Turkey separating the sides on the continental index.

Finland, Denmark, Scotland, Wales; the sort of teams that Ireland have faced in the Nations League over the past few years, and tonight’s Norway encounter should slot right in alongside those fixtures when considering competitiveness.

Callum O'Dowda - Stephen Kenny is a fan

Recent results and performances suggest that Ireland are continuing to improve since Stephen Kenny took charge, however, for all those steady gains, the upcoming Euro campaign could prove quite the rocky ride, going head-to-head with France and the Netherlands in search of a top-two finish.

And while much credit can be taken from those games where Ireland competed comfortably with quality sides like Portugal, Serbia, Belgium – three World Cup qualified sides – Ukraine and Scotland, the next campaign needs to turn the defeats to draws and the tied games into victories.

Kenny and his backroom team will be working tirelessly toward thwarting the super powers of the group, while making sure that there are no slip-ups either home or away against Greece and Gibraltar, the other two sides in the group.

And what Ireland need tonight against Norway is a confident, composed and complete performance, adhering to the manager’s principles of playing possession-based football, working out from the back, proving clinical in the final third, while maintaining a disciplined defensive display.

Kenny will, no doubt, point to the recent home fixture against Scotland as the template, where his side dominated their opponents, and once they got the breakthrough, they kept the foot on the gas to ensure the comprehensive victory.

Michael Obafemi has a habit of hitting the net in style at Lansdowne Road

Norway, however, will come to Dublin also looking to kick-start their Euro 2024 preparations, as like Ireland they failed to qualify for the World Cup, finishing behind Turkey and the Netherlands in their group.

They only managed to take two points from four games with the top two, while they suffered some disappointing results throughout the campaign, failing to beat Latvia at home.

Their recent Nations League campaign, however, showed that they are an ever-improving side, and they are matching performances with results, beating Sweden home and away, while winning in Serbia. Their results against Slovenia proving the difference in the group as Serbia edged them out to secure promotion to the top tier.

Maintaining the comparisons with Ireland, Norway were also in Pot 3 for the Euro 2024 draw and will need to finish ahead of Scotland or Spain to book their ticket for Germany – a task more appealing than what waits for Kenny’s side.

The emergence of Erling Haaland should see Norway move above mid-table mediocrity over the coming years in a similar way to how players like Christian Eriksen and Gareth Bale helped Denmark and Wales move into that comfort zone just below the European heavyweights.

And while Haaland will not feature in Dublin tonight, those that do don the Norway shirt will show that they are far from a one-man team as there is a lot of quality that will inevitably get the best out of the big striker in years to come.

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard brings real quality to this Norway side, while Southampton’s Mohamed Elyounoussi, Alexander Sorloth, currently at Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo’s Jorgen Strand Larsen show the strength of the travelling squad.

Martin Odegaard has been in fine form for Arsenal this season

Molde duo Ola Brynhildsen and Jacob Karlstrom will be familiar to Irish football fans, having recently graced these shores in Europa Conference League action against Shamrock Rovers.

As for what team Kenny sends out to start tonight’s game, there will be few changes to the sides that played in the recent games against Scotland and Armenia, which means that there will be a settled look to the defensive unit with Gavin Bazunu in goals, and the trio of Nathan Collins, John Egan and Dara O’Shea sitting in front.

James McClean and Matt Doherty are expected to cover the wing-back positions, while Jason Knight needs to be replaced in midfield since he was not released by Derby County for the two games.

Kenny could opt for a four-man midfield with the wing-backs sitting a bit more narrow alongside Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby, allowing a trio to start up front.

Callum O’Dowda is a name that keeping getting checked from the manager, who really wants to see the Cardiff City man in the team, so he could certainly start on the left of a three.

The other two places would then be between Michael Obafemi, Chiedozie Ogbene, and Callum Robinson. Others like Robbie Brady, Alan Browne and Jeff Hendrick are also in contention to feature, while Kenny may also be tempted to take a look at Will Smallbone at some stage.

A bumper crowd is expected as ticket sales have been strong, which shows the appetite for this emerging Ireland team among the footballing fraternity throughout the country, and while there will be no Haaland to add star quality to tonight's game, there is a building expectation and excitement that Evan Ferguson could be the man to bring this Ireland team to another level.

Kenny won’t bow to sentiment and give the youngster a token first cap, however, if a goal is needed inside the last ten minutes to settle this one, the Brighton prospect may just get a taste of what is to come in the vital 2024 campaign.

Watch the Republic of Ireland v Norway live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player on Thursday from 7pm with live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and follow a live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and RTÉ News app