A Champions League symphony for Salzburg
RB Salzburg got a direct entry because Liverpool and Tottenham finishing among the top four in the Premiership meant a spot was vacant and it went to Salzburg.Updated: Sep 19, 2019 11:25 IST
Amid the hurly burly of missed penalties, champions fumbling their opening lines and Lionel Messi playing for the first time this season, it was RB Salzburg’s 6-2 win against Genk that created a symphony in studs on the opening night of the Champions League’s group stage.
This was a game between Champions League irregulars, the one from the hometown of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart more irregular than their opponents. Genk were at this stage after eight years; RB Salzburg after 25.
For seven successive seasons before this edition — and 13 overall — RB Salzburg were eliminated, most of the time after coming within touching distance of qualifying for club football’s stiffest competition. This time they got a direct entry because Liverpool and Tottenham finishing among the top four in the Premiership meant a spot was vacant and it went to Salzburg.
In 2012-13, RB Salzburg lost on away goals to Luxembourg’s Dudelange after the qualifier finished 4-4 on aggregate. It was the same in 2017 and 2018; last year when they were 2-0 up in the second half.
In 2009, they lost to Maccabi Haifa and the year after, they blew away a lead and went down to Hapoel Tel Aviv. “I am shaking with fear. Everything scares me before this game,” said coach Huub Stevens then, half in jest.
Dinamo Zagreb pipped RB Salzburg at the post in 2016 and twice they were denied by Malmo.
So, qualification would have felt sweeter than the 15 million euros that come with being among the 32 group stage teams. And, boy, didn’t Salzburg celebrate a silver jubilee of waiting and all those near-misses by putting on a show on Tuesday!
They were leading the Belgians by the second minute, had buttressed the lead by the 32nd and before the first-half was done, Erling Braut Haaland, 19, had stolen the headlines with a hat-trick. Of the eight goals, six came before half-time by which time the hosts were leading 5-1.
Norway’s Haaland was the first to score a Champions League hat-trick on debut since Yacine Brahimi in 2014.
No teenager had scored as many since Wayne Rooney’s hattrick in 2004. “Everything is possible. We all saw Ajax last year, it would be nice to be the new Ajax,” said Haaland referring to the Dutch team’s run to the semi-final last season.
This was Haaland’s third hattrick of the season. In last year’s under-20 World Cup, Haaland, son of Alf Inge Haaland, who played for Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Manchester City, had scored nine goals in the 12-0 defeat of Honduras. Sweet dreams are made of these.
First Published: Sep 19, 2019 09:15 IST