Milan fans, do you remember when Rosenborg came to San Siro on December 4, 1996? When Vegard Heggem rose between Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi to knock in the winning goal? It doesn’t really matter if you believe it happened or not, because in Norway, we’ve watched the replays a million times.
The historic 2-1 win at San Siro, when RBK sent the world’s best team out of the Champions League, has been celebrated as the biggest achievement by a Norwegian side, period. And the reason I mention the biggest achievement in Norwegian football, is because the side that arrive tomorrow have been compared to that historic team.
The side who ran through Zalgiris Vilnius in the second qualifying round of the Europa League have been given the opportunity to match the greatest Norwegian side in history.
A win would complete the story of Bodø/Glimt’s abnormal year. The match against Milan couldn’t be any more fitting. Earlier this month, in the Norwegian newspaper VG, you could read about the 14 records within Bodø’s reach in 2020. Most of them are of course held by the historically dominant RBK.
Bodø/Glimt, who had bounced back from a year in the second tier only two and a half seasons ago, have created an exciting new chapter of Norwegian football. They have surprised, stunned and overwhelmed football fans across the country, with their free-flowing attacking style and the eagerness to turn suffering into achievements, much like the beloved Atalanta in Serie A.
They are up against it on Thursday, maybe the biggest game in the history of the club. Compared to where this team were only a few years ago, to play a European tie against Milan at San Siro should have the youngsters in Bodø pinching their arms in disbelief.
Meanwhile in the mother land, the superlatives are flying left, right and centre. The experts are forming an orderly queue to get a glimpse of the action – they just can’t get enough of the Northerners in yellow. The intensity in their game play, the quality in their passing and the fearless players in a squad with an average age of 22.84.
They are naïve enough to take on anyone. When third-placed Odd scored the opener in Bodø, the youngsters reacted by attacking their visitors and didn’t stop until they sent the title challengers home to dwell on what went wrong in a 6-1 defeat to the League leaders. That was the fourth time in 18 games coach Kjetil Knutsen’s men have scored six or more goals this year.
And Knutsen has vowed to play the Bodø/Glimt way in Milan too. Record breaking statistics and goals galore. Despite being realistic ahead of the match at the home of Italian football, they still have that naïve approach to the game, young fearless hunger.
“It’s important to emphasise that we don’t tremble with fear at night,” Knutsen told VG. “We are just looking forward to it. We must pump our chests up more than ever before in life. That’s how we will approach this match.”
Because Bodø/Glimt arrive after astonishing results in Eliteserien, having scored 65 times in 18 games, already one more than they did in all of 2019. An average of 3.6 goals per game, currently beating the record set by Rosenborg in 1997. If you add the return from third-placed Odd and fourth-placed Rosenborg, you will just about beat Bodø/Glimt’s record in front of goal this year, with a combined total of 66.
Last year Bodø/Glimt finished second in Norway. This year, they have more or less wrapped up the title with 12 games remaining and a 16-point gap down to second-placed Molde, scoring at least twice in 21 consecutive games and are unbeaten in the League. Danish forward Philip Zinckernagel has become the League’s first player in five years to reach double figures in both goals and assists, contributing to a win ratio of 87.5 per cent so far this season.
But, as they watched Milan beat Bologna and extend their unbeaten run, Knutsen knows his young side lack the experience and was in awe of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performance at 39 years of age. The Norwegian side arrive at San Siro with one 30-year-old in the whole squad and a total market value of €10m, according to Transfermarkt. That’s just about what Gigio Donnarumma asked for yearly to continue working at Milanello.
“This will be a great reference to see where we are,” Knutsen said. “We are going to prepare well on how to defend and attack, but we must keep playing our way.
“Milan are an impressive side. They press high up and must be one of the best teams in the Europa League. They have top quality all over the pitch.”
The Rossoneri are not what they were in 1996, but Norway holds its breath and the match can’t come any sooner. Yet for the Diavolo, it’s just the preliminary rounds for a side who are aiming to compete for the trophy come May.