After a tense evening in Greece, Hibs got the result required to progress to the third qualifying round where they will face Molde. Joel Sked looks at what Hibs can expect from their Norwegian opponents.
Who are Molde?
Hibs are set to come up against one of Norway’s biggest clubs but it hasn’t always been that way. Until the 1980s they spent most of their existence playing outside the top flight. Since returning to the top division in 1984 they’ve only spent two seasons outside of it.
While Rosenborg were dominating Norwegian football throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, winning 13 titles in succession, MFK finished second on four occasions. They had their own short spell of dominance between 2011 and 2014, winning the league three times and two Norwegian Cups. One of their key players was former Celtic attacker Jo Inge Berget.
Like first round opponents Runavik, Hibs will come up against a team well into their league season. Molde currently sit third in the Eliteserien after 16 games, six points off the summit.
Molde, who play in blue and white, are based in a city with the same name on the west coast of the Norwegian peninsula. Another adventure is on the cards for Hibs fans with the town of around 27,000 inhabitants more than seven hour hours away from capital Oslo by car.
The Aker Stadion can be found in a picturesque location on the seafront in the west of the town. It is a compact, two-tiered stadium which holds 11,800. This season the team have averaged an attendance of 6,671 in the league.
Scotland played in the stadium in 2013, a Scott Brown goal gave Gordon Strachan’s men a 1-0 win in the friendly fixture.
How did they qualify for Europe?
Molde were runners-up to Rosenborg to earn their place in the first qualifying round. They had spent most of the season outside the top three but finished strongly winning seven of the last ten fixtures to take second place ahead of Sarpsborg 08 and Strømsgodset.
What is their European record like?
Molde are one of only two Norwegian sides to have competed in the Champions League proper. Hibs’ opponents reached the group stages in 1999 after progressing past CSKA Moscow and Mallorca. They lost five of their six fixtures in a group which consisted of Real Madrid, Porto and Olympiacos. They did manage to beat the latter at home.
This season is their 16th European campaign and they have twice faced Scottish opposition. Rangers defeated them over two legs in the first round of the Uefa Cup in 2006. More recently they beat Celtic twice in the Europa League group stage in 2015. The game in Norway was memorable for former Hibs forward Kris Commons’ angry reaction towards Ronny Deila after being subbed.
That campaign was the longest they lasted in Europe, qualifying for the knockout stages. They were defeated by Sevilla in the round of 32.
Player to watch
The name Alf-Inge Haland should be familiar to football fans of a certain generation. While playing for Manchester City he was on the end of a gruesome challenge from Manchester United captain Roy Keane. However, he may soon be better known as the father of Erling Braut Haland.
The 18-year-old Modle forward hit the headlines last month when he was still 17 and scored all four goals in his side’s win over league leaders Brann. More impressively they came in the opening 20 minutes.
After the match manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told Eurosport: “He can become a top striker for sure. He reminds me of the type of striker (Romelu) Lukaku is. There is a lot of interest in him. We have had offers from good clubs this year but we have rejected them. Former Champions League winners.”
The player has reportedly been watched by Manchester United having netted eight goals so far this season. His ratio of 0.85 goals per 90 minutes is the best in the division, while he has already struck in the Europa League. His goalscoring record for Norway’s youth teams is also exceptional.
Watching his goals for Molde there are similarities to ex-Hibs forward Jason Cummings in terms of finishing technique and his ability to play in the shoulder of the defence.
Man in charge
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs little introduction. Nearly 400 appearances for Manchester United, six Premier League titles won, plus a Champions League winning goal. United signed the Norwegian legend from Molde and it was there where he came to prominence as a manger.
He twice led Molde to the Norwegian title before earning a move to Cardiff City when the Bluebirds were a Premier League club but he couldn’t prevent them from being relegated. He was sacked with the club struggling in the Championship the following season.
After more than a year he was re-appointed Molde manager. He was in charge as the club reached the knockout stages of the Europa League.
What can Hibs expect?
Let’s get straight to the point. Hibs’ four European games have brought about 24 goals and no clean sheets. That looks like continuing. Molde play with an offensive 4-3-3 formation.
Their prerogative won’t be to control the game with possession. Despite sitting third they have averaged the seventh most possession and made the eighth most passes. Of course it’s about what teams do with the ball which is important. Molde want to get the ball forward. No team has played more passes to the final third in the Norwegian league, while only Brann have crossed the ball more. Such an ethos suits the talented Haland.
Hibs will have to be vigilant with regards to Molde’s left-side with the combination of left-back Kristoffer Haugen, a prolific crosser, and the creativity of Eirik Hestad.
Molde are one of the youngest in Norway and are not short of energy or combativeness. Despite their lofty position they are involved in the third most defensive duels and picked up their fair share of yellow cards so the games could be quite feisty.
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