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Motherwell take on Norway's rising stars

AALESUNDS v MOTHERWELL - Europa League third qualifying round, first leg
Venue: Color Line Stadion Date: Thursday, 29 July Kick-off: 1800 BST

Motherwell manager Craig Brown
Brown will call on his experience to guide Motherwell through against Aalesunds

By Keir Murray

The hope is that Scottish teams have learned that it is foolish to underestimate supposedly "inferior" opposition in European matches.

Throughout the decades of Continental competition, there has been a tendency in Scotland to dismiss the more obscure teams too readily, our ignorance of what lies beyond our shores compounding an inflated sense of self.

But that notion of "wha's like us" has taken many dents - such as when Aberdeen lost to Latvians Skonto Riga and Dundee United to Tatran Presov in 1994, or when Rangers were humbled in 2002 by Czech side Viktoria Zizkov and Celtic were thrashed by Artmedia Bratislava in 2005.

Motherwell, for their part, have previous in this regard, too.

Finnish outfit MyPa-47 put them out of the Uefa Cup in 1995 at the first hurdle, leaving only the most ardent claret and amber fans to claim they had been eliminated by one of the competition's big names - Myllykosken Pallo -47.

Our slide down the European rankings means that Scottish clubs now more often face the smaller teams in qualifying rounds for the Europa League.

The port of Alesund
Motherwell are heading for the port of Alesund, north of Bergen

Motherwell, having seen off the challenge of Icelanders Breidablik, play Aalesunds of Norway in the third qualifying round of that competition, the first leg of which is on Thursday evening.

Craig Brown, manager of the Lanarkshire side, is too experienced and too thorough to take progression for granted; indeed, he has told BBC Scotland that he hopes for a "decent" result to bring back to Fir Park for the second leg.

And in any case, a glance at the Tippeligaen, Norway's top league, will have told him that their opponents sit in fourth place after 18 matches, buoyed by a last-minute winner against second-top Valerenga on Saturday.

It is considerable progress for a team that finished last season in 13th position.

Well's opponents qualified for the Europa League, their first time in European competition, by beating Molde in last season's Norwegian Cup final.

Their squad consists mostly of Norwegian players, including Jonathan Parr, an attack-minded left-sided midfielder who, at 22, made his debut for Egil Olsen's national side in May.

Elsewhere in midfield are the Jamaican pair Demar Phillips and Khari Stephenson, and Swedish international Johan Arneng, the captain.

Swede Johan Arneng captains Aalesund
Aalesunds are captained by the Swede Johan Arneng

Aalesund's progress has caught the imagination of the fans in the coastal town. Having moved to their new Color Line Stadion five years ago, they are able to regularly sell out the 10,800 capacity ground.

The team are managed by Kjetil Rekdal, whose name may be familiar to Scottish football fans - he played for Norway against Brown's national side at the 1998 World Cup.

The score that day in Bordeaux when Brown and Rekdal last crossed swords was 1-1. A similar scoreline on Thursday would suit the veteran and his assistant Archie Knox.

Scotland's coefficient in European football is in need of a boost. If Hibernian can get through against Maribor, they will join Dundee United in the final qualifying round before the Europa League group stages.

Motherwell will have to be on their toes to get that far. Against a side midway through their season, now is not the time for the Steelmen to be feeling rusty.

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see also
Motherwell avoid nightmare trip
23 Jul 10 |  Motherwell
Brown salutes Motherwell victory
22 Jul 10 |  Motherwell
Breidablik 0-1 Motherwell (0-2)
22 Jul 10 |  Europe
Scottish clubs discover Euro foes
16 Jul 10 |  Europe

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