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It was the arena of FC Schalke 04, where the Champions League history of the Rosenborg Ball Club on December 11, 2007 ended for the time being. Both teams had chances to progress before the last matchday of the group stage, in direct duel the decision was made. Schalke won 3-1 and reached the round of 16, Rosenborg flew out. Since then, RBK has not made it into the group stage of the premier class.
On Tuesday (kick-off 21 clock), the club from Trondheim in Norway can return to the group stage of the Champions League after more than eleven and a half years. In the playoff second leg, Rosenborg face Dinamo Zagreb at home in Lerkendal, but have to make up 0-2 in the first leg.
Lange Rosenborg was one of the regular participants of the highest competition in club football. Between 1995 and 2002 RBK was in the group stage eight times in a row, eleven times they took part so far in the Champions League. This past shapes. "It is the identity of Rosenborg, every year in the European competitions to be there," says sports director Stig Inge Bjørnebye the SPIEGEL. But for Rosenborg it is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfill this self-image.
This is only partly due to Rosenborg himself. In the domestic Eliteserien RBK remains one of the dominant teams. But for teams from smaller footballing countries like Norway, it has become more difficult since 2018 to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. The Uefa had then reformed the mode.
Fewer countries in the group stage
Since 2018, only six instead of ten teams qualify over the qualifying rounds. The other 26 clubs are already set. Half of the 32 participants in the group stage come from the four major leagues in Spain, England, Germany and Italy. They benefited from the reform and received a fourth guaranteed grid position in the group stage. Rosenborg and most of the other champions from the smaller and medium-sized federations must survive four qualifying rounds.
Even last year's finalist Ajax must compete in qualifying, as the Dutch league is not entitled to a direct starting place. As a result of the reform, the number of leagues represented in the group phase has decreased. In the past year there were only 15, before the reform were usually 17 or 18 countries represented. "The Champions League is more exclusive today," says Bjørnebye. "It's a great achievement for us to have come this far in qualifying."
When Trondheim was still a permanent guest: striker John Carew in the Rosenborg jersey in 2000
It is difficult to shape the Champions League so that everyone involved is satisfied. "It's a trade-off between the commercial side of competition and solidarity between clubs and countries," says Bjørnebye. The duel between the fourth in the Bundesliga and Premier League is probably more interested in football fans than a duel between the Norwegian and Swedish champions. Also athletic Leverkusen as Bundesliga fourth FC Barcelona have to oppose more than Rosenborg. Even now, the Champions League has a problem with clear results and a drop in tension at the end of the group stage because many decisions have already been made.
What could change in the future
The smaller countries would therefore not necessarily be helped if they just get more starting places. In most games, they would only be cannon fodder; the tension would rather sink further. In the long term, helping could mean something else: "It would be important to be able to distribute the profits to more clubs," says Bjørnebye. Thus, inequality could at least be reduced. And last but not least, the opposite has happened: The already-rich clubs, that is, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, profited financially from the last reform.
But there is also good news for the smaller countries. Last December, the introduction of a third European Cup competition from 2021 was decided. This third competition will ensure that in future at least 34 countries will be represented in the group stage of the three competitions. Currently the guaranteed minimum is 26.
And there are already efforts for a fundamental reform from 2024 on. According to plans of the European Club Association ECA, only four of the 32 group places will be awarded by the placement in the national leagues. That would be another two places less than current. 24 teams would be set by the participation in the previous year - and four other teams from the Europa League ascend. The Champions League would then become an almost closed society, say critics. The proposal is being discussed, there is no decision yet.
Strengthen the domestic league
But the smaller countries also share responsibility for their situation. "We have to strengthen the competition in our league," says Bjørnebye. If the rest of the league were stronger, then RBK would have to improve, so the thought.
Last Saturday, the home game for Rosenborg in the Norwegian Eliteserien, 12,000 spectators were there. Against the relegation candidate Stabæk RBK won with difficulty 3: 2. In the league Rosenborg is only in fourth place, the championship is ten points off the top of the table out of reach. After all, the series champion has apparently again competitors, as he had wished. However, the club can only make real leaps in development if it is in the Champions League and guarantees that millions of dollars in entry fees will be collected.