Much like the European parliament, this season’s European club competitions will be devoid of Norwegian representation. For the first time since the concept of qualifying rounds was introduced back in 1994, no Norwegian club has managed through and into the proper competitions..
It started with Rosenborg’s farcical failure against Azerbaijani also-rans Quarabagh, Fredrikstad’s Polish pummelling and Vålerenga’s creditable but ultimately inadequate efforts against PAOK. Tonight Spanish sides Valencia and Athletic Bilbao completed the job by eliminating Stabæk and Tromsø respectively.
Tromsø were hopeful of overcoming the Basque brawlers of Bilbao after picking up two very handy away-goals in a 3-2 defeat in the first leg, but a 1-1 draw at Alfheim tonight sees the visitors go through on aggregate. The Northerners were left fuming at the match officials, with some justification, as Bilbao’s crucial 1-0 goal came from a penalty that looked very dodgy indeed. “It was crazy, it was not a penalty and he kept giving free-kicks,” ranted Tromsø’s goalkeeper Sead Ramovic. Of course, being madder than a particularly large box of frogs, Ramovic got himself sent off near the end for sprinting half the length of the pitch and shoving a Bilbao-player who was being substituted and taking his time getting off the pitch. “What can I do when the referee crushes my dream?” he asked, making even less sense than usual. “A good performance from us. We had chances to settle it, but we dindn’t succeed,” was manager Per-Mathias Høgmo’s accurate yet somehow underwhelming summary of the match.
At the Mestalla it was an altogether different story, as Valencia’s 3-0 win over Stabæk in Norway had rather drained the tie of any kind of excitement. A second-string Valencia had no trouble dismantling what was in fairness also a largely second-string Stabæk, with players like Torstein Andersen Aase, Iven Austbø and Mikkel Diskerud all given rare starts. The 4-1 defeat made it a rather emphatic-looking 7-1 aggregate win for Valencia, a side that in spite of being in the kind of financial difficulties that makes Lyn’s situation look comfortable still have some superb footballers among their ranks.
Neither of these results are particularly shameful for the Norwegian clubs involved, but looking at the bigger picture the fact that not a single Norwegian club has gotten past the qualifying stages of a European competition this season is fairly depressing. Footballing powerhouses Latvia, Moldova, Hungary, Cyprus and Belarus have all managed to sneak a team into some sort of group stage, yet a combination of gaffes, goofs and unfortunate draws has left Norway completely devoid of representation. Let the soul searching begin.