On Thursday night, March 18, Erling Moe’s Molde had their unlikely run in the UEFA Europa League brought to a halt. Spanish side Granada CF will proceed to the last 8 of the competition, at Molde’s expense.
Molde won on the evening, 2-1, but that was not enough to overturn the deficit inflicted by Granada in the first leg of the tie, when last week they defeated Molde 2-0, at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes in Southern Spain.
The tie finished 3-2 on aggregate in Granada’s favor. This result is somewhat flattering for Molde, and while there was only a single goal difference across the two games, due to the away goals rule, Molde would have actually needed to score two more last night to proceed.
As with the match last week between the Norwegians and the Spaniards, the statistics were very evenly matched; Molde had a few more efforts on target, and Granada retained a little bit more of the ball in possession. Ultimately, as before, it was quality and composure in the pivotal moments that proved decisive.
It was clear before the commencement of the match that Erling Moe’s side needed goals: at least two. In the 29th minute, Molde’s campaign took a stride in the right direction.
Accumulated pressure caused Granada’s Jesus Vallejo to fumble the ball into the back of his own net, in a clumsy attempt to clear a crossed ball.
This was exactly what Molde required; a goal and a clean sheet within the first 30 minutes, leaving them an hour to find the crucial second goal that was the minimum criterion of the evening.
Deadlocked until it wasn’t
Following the opening goal, Molde continued to utilize their smaller share of possession with offensive intent, whilst Granada, with a greater share, seemed intent on keeping the ball in motion, so long as it was not motion dictated by Molde. The match was evenly contested, with neither side seemingly in overwhelming danger of scoring.
However, football, especially in Europe where away goals have such an overpowering influence, is fraught with course-altering single moments. In the 72nd minute, 35-year-old veteran and talisman of the first leg, Roberto Soldado, converted a Yangel Herrera cross to ultimately seal the Molde’s fate as runners-up in the contest.
Danger from crossed balls has been an ever-present danger for Molde, with multiple chances being created against them from wide positions, in the two matches against Hoffenheim in the previous round, and in both matches against Granada. Erling Moe will surely feel aggrieved that his side have been unable to shore up the defensive holes in this regard, and unless things change, it presents as an obvious Achilles’ Heel for his side.
While the story of Molde’s European success thus far has largely been attributable to the heroic performances of their goalkeeper, Andreas Linde, he was truly powerless to have any say in this goal. It was a cross whipped into the danger zone with great pace, and the subtlest of nods by Soldado encouraged the ball on its path: a path that could not be altered by Linde.
With that goal, the final nail was driven into Molde’s European coffin. Required now to score 3 goals in 18 minutes plus injury time, there was a great celebration by the Spaniards, and great deflation visible among the Norwegians. This is often the case in sporting contests with great spoils at stake; the emotions of the competitors present as a dichotomy, best summarized by the popular sporting adage, “the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.”
No quarter, given nor sought
With Molde eliminated from the contest in all but name, the Norwegians continued to press for more goals. Erling Moe can take comfort and pride from his side’s reaction, and the mental fortitude to continue to chase the tie until its end, was commendable.
Sporting victories are momentary, and techniques may be taught, but the willpower to refuse to submit against insurmountable odds is something that one either has within them, or does not.
Molde’s fighting spirit was rewarded with a late goal. Eirik Hestad was able to convert a penalty in the closing stages, to salvage some element of professional pride for the Norwegians, and gain some semblance of victory on the night. Molde, while being disappointed, should not be discouraged.
Their displays in Europe this season have proven that they are no pushover, and can score goals when it counts, against “better opposition.” Elimination at this stage is not so much a defeat, but an improvement on anything that’s come before for the club in this competition – and, with that, this campaign should be viewed as laying the foundations for future campaigns, with renewed spirit and ambition.
Source: #Norway Today
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