#8 – NAVIGATING NORWAY

Welcome back to Navigating Norway where we will talk through a rather epic second half of Fredrik Solskjaer’s fifth season in charge at Tromsdalen UIL Fotball. First of all, apologies for the delay in updates – I was busy finishing My FM Journal which I’d love for you to check out. Secondly, we return with a new way of organising the updates. From now on instead of mid-season and end of season reviews I’ll now be going forward with headings of what is happening at the time.

This may mean that posts may become shorter or longer but it will give me the balance of being able to surge through the save at an easier pace and provide more regular updates. So, where were we? Last time out I left you at the mid-season stage where we have not much to play for in the Elite Serien but remain in the Norwegian FA Cup – which we’ll look to be winning back-to-back as well as now featuring for the first time in European football. Enough of the catchup, let’s just get stuck in.

EUROPA CONFERENCE BEGINS

As you’ll remember from last season, we won the Norwegian FA Cup which meant we had found ourselves in the UEFA Europa Conference League. Although we would need to advance through THREE two-legged qualifiers to make the group stages. During these qualifiers, we would have a league game in between and that meant rotating each week. Thankfully though it did not hamper the quality of football we were producing on the pitch.

Tromsdalen’s first European outings would be against Bulgarian outfit Pirin Blagoevgrad and upon looking through the squad I believed we would have no problems in advancing to the next qualifying stage. Our players were far better yet I did take the gable of fielding some of the fringe players to keep the squad fresh through a fixture pile-up.

It worked. We won 3-1 away in Bulgaria thanks to a first-half hat-trick from Oyvind Stokajaervi and again won 3-1 back at home to complete a 6-2 aggregate victory. Sander Christiansen, Oyvind once more and Sigurd Gronli with the goals. It set up a two-legged encounter with Belgian champions Anderlecht. When the draw came out I was pretty down, “we’re not beating them I thought”, especially with such a talented bunch at their disposal.

But, we did it. Probably our finest moment of the save so far. We led in Belgium through Sigurd Gronli but were pegged back through Jackie Denis’ goal. An away goal to take home with us. We went behind early on back in Tromsdalen though but pulled level on the half-hour mark. There were to be no more goals despite our lack of trying. It went to penalties.

There were a lot of penalties. We tucked away all of ours as we won 8-7 on sudden death. Jubilation all around and a big scalp for us to take. Omar Khadir’s miss will live long in my memory. Still, we were not in the group stages yet. We still had one more two-legged affair to get through.

Apollon Limassol stood between ourselves and the group stage proper of the UEFA Europa Conference League and Sigurd Gronli’s 35th-minute goal away in Cyprus had us ahead at half-time in the tie. The second leg had me worried until the 14th minute. Markus Karlsbakk eased my nerves by putting us ahead and Sander Christiansen had us 2-0 at halftime (3-0 on aggregate) – we were basically through. Further goals from Stian Ringstad and Oyvind Sotkajaervi completed a 5-1 aggregate win. We had done it, we were into the group stages.

With that, we had also moved in the finances from red to green. Happy days. The group stage draw was kind to us also. We were drawn in Group C along with CSKA Moscow, Wolfsberger and Ferencvaros. I would expect us to pick up points here but you’ll hear more of that later on. Now we turn our attention back to the Elie Serien.

ELITE SERIEN HEATS UP?

We sat 6th after 15 games of 30 in the Elite Serien and Rosenborg had won their game in hand to leave us 9 points away from the European places and after a recent winless run of 6 – which included a run of 4 straight defeats – I had half given up hope on us improving on our 7th placed finish of last season but little did I know was that this team refuses to lay down and be beaten. With our quest for UEFA Champions League football still very much the main objective we surged forward and put together a rather remarkable run.

In August we left it late to defeat Jerv 2-0 thanks to goals from Gronli in the 72nd minute and Mustapha Fofana in the 88th before winning away at both Aalesund 2-1 and Sarpsborg 1-0. It was our 4th win in a row, the best we had achieved all season thus far, but we weren’t finished there. Stian Ringstad’s header saw us defeat Kristiansund 1-0 and we then went on to beat Brann 2-0 at home and Stromsgodset away 1-0.

We had won 7 in a row and kept 5 clean sheets in the process. Things were looking up again and we were back into the European places. The title race was heating up too. Molde, Bodo/Glimt, Lillestrom and Rosenborg were all within a point of each other in a four-way race to be declared champions of Norway. Could we make it a five-way race?

A blip away at Viking where we drew 0-0 hampered us slightly and the cruel run of fixtures was now starting to show slightly. Rotation each game was necessary as we had a game every 3/4 days. We could celebrate reaching the Norwegian FA Cup final for a second season running though as Fredrik Solskjaer defeated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the semi-final. 4-2 after extra time in a compelling match. Following this, we faced Molde at home.

Now, we still had only beaten Molde once and that was in the Cup Final last season on penalties following a 0-0 draw. Finally, though we could celebrate a win in 90 minutes. Markus Karlsbakk and Sander Christiansen were the heroes as we ran out 2-0 winners. Molde had now lost the top spot and we were almost in the thick of it ourselves at the top. The wins kept coming in the league. We snatched a 3-2 victory away at neighbours Tromso in the 90th minute before thrashing Stabaek 5-1 and controlling the game well away at Valerenga with a 2-0 victory.

With 4 games and 12 points remaining Molde and Bodo/Glimt sat on 56 points whilst Rosenborg, ourselves and Lillestrom sat on 52 points. It was indeed a five-horse race now. Before we get to the season finale we’ll go back to the UEFA Europa Conference League. The group stages are over and the results were very interesting!

EUROPA CONFERENCE CONTINUES

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident of progressing through in this group but there there is always that little doubt that remains in your mind. Were we ready for this so early on in the save? Our first two games put some of that worry to rest as goals in the second half from Kevin Krygard and Oyvind Sotkajaervi saw us defeat Wolfsberger AC 2-0 at home before a Markus Karlsbakk double and Stian Ringstad bullet led us to a 3-0 win away at Ferencvaros.

It was a terrific start for us in Group C. But then came the ‘heavyweight’ of the group in Russian side CSKA Moscow. We led for what seemed an eternity away in Moscow before Vitaly Lisakovich levelled things up in the 83rd minute. The return game back in Norway saw both sides cancel each other out in a 0-0 stalemate.

We drew again when Ferencvaros came to Norway. We led through Krygard’s curling effort but then found ourselves behind – all within 8 minutes – as Krisztian Turi and Attila Kemenes stunned us. We were in 3rd place in the live table with one game to go but Stian Ringstad’s 88th-minute equaliser saw us end up topping the group going into the final group game.

The group was very tightly posed. Ourselves and Wolfsberger sat joint-top – both on 9 points – whilst CSKA Moscow had 8 points in 3rd. Ferencvaros’ first point of the group meant little to them as they were already eliminated. Our job was simple, avoid defeat away to Wolfsberger or hope that Ferencvaros can gain at least a point at home to CSKA Moscow.

We didn’t need to worry about other results in the end as we cruised to a 2-0 win in Austria. Oyvind Sotkajaervi’s 40th-minute header calmed the nerves and Kevin Krygard’s deflected effort in the 79th minute ensured that we would go through as group winners. We will now have to wait until next season to see who we’ll be facing in the knockout stages.

Could we do a Molde of last year and win the whole thing?

ELITE SERIEN TITLE MAYHEM

Four games remain and our first game of those four would see us take on league leaders Bodo/Glimt. It ended up being a no-contest as we cruised to a 3-0 win in one of the most straightforward games we had been involved in all season. Oyvind Sotkajaervi was on target once more along with Krygard and the ageing Lovland. Everyone else one meaning the pack had only changed slightly but now it was Molde we needed to catch.

Rosenborg away was next – another title challenger. Marius Holbraten gave us a 17th-minute lead but it was wiped out within 2 minutes as Rafal Maciejewski thundered one into the top corner from just outside the area. There were no more goals as drew 1-1. We took out our frustrations against Odds in our penultimate Elite Serien fixture where Krygard netted three and Christiansen rounded the goalkeeper for a fourth in a 4-0 battering.

That meant the table going into the final day looked like this:

Any of Molde, Bodo/Glimt, ourselves, Rosenborg and Lillestrom could become champions on the final day. However Lillestrom needed a big swing – and they would be facing us – whilst Rosenborg and ourselves would need to win and hope both Molde and Bodo/Glimt failed to win. It was a bizarre way to end the season. Let’s not forget too that this is only our second season in the top flight It’s ridiculous that we are even in the discussion right now.

So, how did it go?

Bodo/Glimt were confirmed as Norwegian champions with a 1-0 win at already relegated Aalesund. We did our job with a 1-0 win away at Lillestrom but it wasn’t enough to topple the eventual winners. We finished level on points with them which is insane meaning a second-placed finish. Finishing second now is actually great for many reasons thanks to Molde’s Europa Conference League triumph months ago. What’s the reason? Well, it meant this…

That’s right. We’re UEFA Champions League baby!

NORWEGIAN CUP FINAL

In an already remarkable season where we have not only reached the Europa Conference League knockouts and narrowly lost out on being champions of Norway by a few goals, we also had the opportunity of finishing the season with some silverware. We had to beat last season’s champions Molde to win it last time out, this time we’d have to do the same again with newly-crowned champions Bodo/Glimt the opposition.

We may have lost the war but could we win the battle?

Of course we won the battle. We were back-to-back winners of the NM SAS Braathens Cup as goals from Oyvind Sotkajaervi and Markus Karlsbakk saw us lift the trophy with a 2-0 victory. It was the perfect way to end the season and moving forward we’re once again in a much better position for more success. This cup victory also saw Fredrik Solskjaer enter both the Norway and Norwegian hall of fame, though he has some way to go to topple Nils Arne Eggen!

THE STORY SO FAR

So, we’re five seasons into the save and we have already come a long way from when we started out in Norway. We’ve had two promotions – both as champions – as well as winning the national cup twice. We are now in Europe, albeit the worst UEFA Competition available but we can now say that during the 2026 season we will be playing in the UEFA Champions League for the FIRST TIME EVER. We’ll have to navigate our way through qualifiers again but we’ve navigated everything else in Norway well so far haven’t we?

I’m very happy with what we have achieved so far and I already have four players coming in during the off-season to once more strengthen the squad. Including a young Norwegian winger from AC Milan. Possibly our biggest signing so far. Plans for next season are simple. Keep winning and see where we land, it seemed to work out well for us this year!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again soon!

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