The start of the gravy train for another season

“Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Sie sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event!”

Of course we all recognise the above three lines as the opening verse of the Champions League anthem.  The music that stirs our loins for a night of the “best football in the world” ©UEFA and seduces us into thinking that we are the privaliged few in being able to watch the superstars.  For those trivia buffs amongst you you may want to know that the song was commissioned by UEFA in 1992 and was aired on the night of the first ever round of games in the tournament in August 1992.  In fact for you real real trivia buffs you may want to know that it was first played on the 19 August in the Ta’Qali stadium in Malta when the teams from Valletta and Maccabi Tel Aviv took to the field.

It was written by English composer Tony Britten and he adapted George Frideric Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” from the Coronation Anthems, and the piece was performed by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Well tonight Matthew I would be attending my first Champions League tie for over a year ‘cross the bridge in my second, sorry third home (oops forgot TBIR Towers in London there..CMF wont be pleased with that slip) Malmö as they took on 21 times Faroese champions Havnar Bóltfelag Tórshavn in the Second Qualifying Round first leg of the 57th year of Europe’s premier football competition, and the 20th since the start of the Champions League format as we know it today.  The 24th ranked nation according to UEFA versus the 48th.

Malmö, Swedish Champions last season have high hopes of reaching the group stages this year.  Only six games stand between them and a place in the Group Stages.  Easy peasy really.  If they did overcome the Faroe Islanders they could look forward to FC Copenhagen, Genk or even Rangers in the next round if they are unlucky (For a great view on the seedings, coefficients and all that stuff that is too complex for my brain, head over and see Bert)

As the Malmo anthem struck up four lone figures in the south stand stood up and held up a Faroe Island flag with great pride.  It is a long road to Munich in May but they were prepared for the long haul.  I just hoped that they weren’t the infamous HB Hooligan firm who, according to Wikipedia mind, “crushed the Dinamo Zagreb hooligans in 10 seconds”.

This was the Faroe Islanders eleventh Champions League tie.  They had won twice before, the last being against FC WIT Georgia back in 2004 and most online bookies I checked with prior to the game weren’t giving them much hope of a repeat tonight (25/1 on as Alan confirmed to me mid-match with the score still 0-0).  I would have bit his arm off on backing the Faroe Islanders who almost sixteen years to the day had beaten Skansin Tórshavn 22-0.  But that would have made me clinically insane.

Still as Greavsie used to say, “It’s a funny old game Saint”.  I officially declare my Champions League season open and tucked into my special licorice lollipop I save for such Scandinavian occasions.  God bless it and all who get in my way.  Time for a delicious cake, a cup of strong coffee and an attempt to get my tongue quite literally around some very strange names.

Malmö FF 2 HB Tórshavn 0 – Malmö Stadion – Wednesday 13th July 2011
With the formalities over the singing started up from the Blues choir behind the goal.   The best thing about coming to watch football here is not the fantastic cakes in the press room, the girls behind the bar in O’Leary’s in their lycra shorts or Malmö’s pastel coloured shirts, or even the strange seats that you have to swivel your whole body to get it. It is without a doubt the constant soundtrack the game is played to by the Tifosi.  And tonight was no exception.

Twenty minutes gone and some nervous glances were being exchanged around the press box.  Apart from a great fingertip save by Teitur Gestsson, Malmö could not break down the 11 men HB put behind the ball at all times.  Well, actually it was 12 as HB’s “centre forward” Andrew Av Fløtum was the size of a bus.

Twenty eight minutes gone and here was the opening goal.  Strong run down the wing, great cross, keeper beaten and the ever reliable Rexhepi was on the far post to nod in.  Except he didn’t.  He head over.  Queue more groans, shaking of heads and kicking of cats (not literally RSPCA it is a metaphor in this case).

As the game drifted towards half time and the HB players took every opportunity to waste some more time I noticed a couple of things about the ground.  Firstly there were no Champions League partner ads.  No PlayStation, Amstel, Ford or even a Rainham Steel lurking behind the goal.  And secondly, the two screens that normally relayed the action, and more importantly the replays, were switched off.  Good job there wasn’t much to show!

It was a disappointing half, let’s be honest Malmö fans.  But for the visitors the best they could have hoped for was a draw and so the game plan needed to take this into account.

The second half saw the home side batter HB from the first minute.  In fact it wasn’t until the 55th minute that they actually got the ball out of their half.  By that stage Malmö’s corner count had reached double figures and at last the small HB keeper had been forced into making a save.

Two minutes later the goal finally came.  Another deep cross from the left and again Rexhepi was left unmarked.  This time he headed firmly downwards and not up and the ball hit the back of the net.  Cue 12,548 fans exhaling all at once to drive those wind turbines in the middle of the Øresund and light up Copenhagen.

The home fans expected the flood gates to open, especially as Tórshavn actually deployed a forward who even ran into the Malmö half once in a while.  But it took a further twenty minutes before they scored again.  Another cross, more confusion in the box and Thorleifson put through his own net.

Apart from  a couple more near misses there was no more action.  Malmö would have taken the score if not the performance at 7pm and the second leg in the wind and rain in the Faroes should not cause too many problems.  But then again, it is a funny old game.

More pictures can be found at our Flickr stream here.

twitter / theballisround

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