Saturday, July 31, 2010
Vålerenga IF – FC Barcelona (27-07-2010)
For some reason, FC Barcelona, Europe’s powerhouse, had decided to come to Oslo to start its season. Afraid it would be sold out, I had asked a local colleague to buy me a ticket in advance, two weeks before the game. As the cheapest tickets were no longer available, he got me the second cheapest: NOK 497 (63 Euro): welcome to Norway! Together with my student S., a Flemish Barca fan, I made my way to the stadium in the cold and rain. Despite the fact that the tram hit a car on the way, we arrived at the Ullevål Stadion well in time for S. to buy a ticket (which he selfishly gave to me as a souvenir, as I had gotten an email print out).
The Ullevål Stadion is the national stadium of Norwegian soccer with a capacity of 25,572. It is home to both the Norwegian national team and Vålerenga IF, the biggest team of Oslo and one of the major teams in Norways Tippeligaen (First Division). Consequently, they are one of the few teams with a sizeable ultra section that sings during the whole match.
Despite the inevitable costs of playing a team like FC Barcelona in a friendly, this was clearly a good move. Despite the terrible weather, 21.993 people had come to the stadium, at least half of them to see FC Barcelona. And although many of the Barca were also Vålerenga fans, all of them were Norwegian incidentally, many clearly were not among the hardcore fans and were there more for Barca than Vålerenga (Barca jerseys far outnumbered Vålerenga jerseys). Hence, the game had more the atmosphere of a circus, or major football event (like World Cup or Champions League), than the authentic vibe of a regular national competition game.
After a festive official opening, during which the Barca and Vålerenga songs were sung, we could finally start. Barca had virtually none of its stars, as all World Cup 2010 players were still on holiday, but the second (and later third) teams were fairly eager, despite the horrendous weather (cold, windy and extremely rainy), and still very skilled.
Although Vålerenga was mid-season and Barca played its first game with its second team, it was the visitors who were the better team. After a couple of half-chances, mostly created by a swirling ball and a blundering Barca goalie, the visitors showed their superior skill. After a beautiful one-two through the center the ball was perfectly placed in the far corner: 0-1 and the audience went crazy as if the home team had scored. However, just one minute a Barca defender gave a light but dumb push in the box, and Vålerenga took the present: 1-1 through a penalty.
In the 31st minute the hosts could even make it 2-1, but the Barca goalie stopped the shot. As the crowd around me was continuing its “Barca Barca” chants, they were rewarded in the 35th minute, when a midfielder pounded the ball from just outside the box in the net. Not the best action of the home goalie: 1-2, also the half time score.
At half time Barca exchanged its whole squad and was now playing with Barca 3 and… Zlatan Ibrahimović. As soon as this Swedish superstar made his appearance, people in the stadium went crazy… though they were to be bitterly disappointed. In all my 350+ games, I doubt I have ever seen anyone move so little and so slow as Zlatan Ibrahimović that night (maybe Piet Keur in his Feyenoord days comes close). Incredible! Then again, Barca didn’t need him, as the Vålerenga libero functioned as their 11th man, kicking the ball straight into the feet of the Barca striker, who only had to take two steps and kick the ball into the net: 1-3. This was the start of several minutes of terrible defending by the hosts, which was only punished again in the 65th minute, when Barca got a free header in the box: 1-4.
To keep everyone happy, Vålerenga scored once more, the next minute, through a shot from 20 meter which was missed by the weak Barca goalie: 2-4. And that was roughly the end of the game, as Barca seemed ready to leave rainy Norway from the 70th minute on, and Vålerenga didn’t have the quality to seriously challenge even the third team of Barca. The only excitement came from a crazy guy, who ran on the pitch to give his man love to Zlatan, who remained unfazed. The guy was finally caught by security, who dragged him off under loud applause.
Not much happened after that. Vålerenga cleared its whole bench so that everyone could legitimately claim they had played against Barca. Who would ever know that by that time the only known player left on the pitch was Zlatan, and he barely moved.
Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, despite the rain, costs, and kind of artificial atmosphere of the game. However, I would probably have preferred to see a regular league game of Vålerenga, to appreciate its singing real supporters better. As there is no doubt, together with probably only Rosenborg BK and Lillestrøm SK, Vålerenga IF is the only Norwegian team with a real following.