The last minute goal by the Brazilian striker Liliu last week was literally a game changer for Nomme Kalju. With the scoreline at 1-1 on the night, and 2-1 on aggregate to Shkendija, it looked like it would be the North Macedonians that would be travelling to Celtic Park this week to face us in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
Okay, that’s a bit presumptuous since their game took place before we had finished the job against Sarajevo, but we all know we were favourites after the 3-1 away win in Bosnia.
Given Shkendija had won the first leg 1-0 in Tallinn, I think most of us had assumed it would be them we would face. But and early away goal for Nomme in the second leg from Maximiliano Ugge levelled everything up. Nevertheless, when Agim Ibraimi scored from the spot for the home team, again most would have expected them to finish the job.
But here we are. Nomme Kalju are the team that progressed, and it’s now our job to do what Shkendija couldn’t do and eliminate them from Champions League qualifying. Do that, and Nomme would drop into the Europa League qualifying where they would face Dudelange or…
Shkendija again. This most recent set up for European qualification is bizarre. We faced Rosenborg four times last season because of it, and here we have Nomme possibly facing Shkendija four times and it still wouldn’t be enough to even get to the group stages!
Actually, Dudelange are 2-1 up from the away leg, so it looks like they’ll be favourites to reach the third qualifying round and face whoever loses in our tie. Hopefully Nomme!
So who are Nomme anyway? Well they’re the reigning Estonian champions obviously, having won the 2018 Meistriliiga, which means they play summer football and are in the middle of their season. Indeed they drew 1-1 at home with Paide on Friday, their twentieth league match of the season. That result sees them twelve points adrift of the lead, sitting in fourth spot behind Flora, Levadia and Paide.
Nomme actually went undefeated in their 2018 league campaign, with eleven draws and twenty five wins across the season. Their only domestic defeat in 2018 came in the cup, which is oddly played as a winter tournament out of sync with their league season, where they lost 1-0 to the eventual winners Levadia in the quarter finals. They have since lost in the 2018/19 final to Narva Trans as well.
Nomme’s only other title came in 2012, while they won the cup in 2014/15 for the only time in their history. Their history is a bit broken though, given they were founded in 1923 and competed until the second world war, at which point the whole country ceased to be and so did Nomme. They were refounded in 1997 and worked their way up through the Estonian tiers and reached the top tier in 2008 where they have stayed ever since.
The only other time Nomme were in the Champions League qualifying, back in 2013/14, they defeated HJK Helsinki before losing out heavily to Viktoria Plzen and then Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk when they dropped into the Europa League playoff round. Their other ventures into Europe have similarly been short lived, with qualifying round defeats to Dinaburg of Latvia, Honka of Finland, Khazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan, Lech Poznan, Vaduz of Liechtenstein, Osmanlispor of Turkey, Videoton of Hungary, and last season Stjarnan of Iceland. The only time they’ve won more than one round in all that time was when they beat both Trakai of Lithuania and Maccabi Haifa of Israel before losing in Turkey in 2016/17.
As well as their tie winning Brazilian and their tie levelling Italian captain, Nomme have a French midfielder in Reginald Mbu Alidor, a Russian defender in Aleksandr Ivanyushin, and a Ukrainian defender in Andriy Markovych. Aside from them, the team are very much home grown.
As for us, well we don’t seem to be any stronger for this tie than we were from the previous one. Hatem Abd Elhamed is all but done, but that’s not enough to see him available for this round of qualifying. That leaves us short at right back once again and we’ll just have to hope that it doesn’t cost us in the long run.
We’ve not had any friendlies to fill our weekends, so we can only hope the fitness of players like Christopher Jullien and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are improving all the time in training. Nothing quite beats getting games under you belt though for improving match sharpness.
The aim tonight should be to take a decent win over to Estonia next week, preferably a couple of goals with none in reply. The more the merrier of course. It would be nice if we could put in the kind of performance that gives both the fans and the players the confidence to not only get through this tie, but the ties that remain too.
Assuming we get past Nomme, the third qualifying round is a tricky one no matter whether its Israel or Romania that we travel to next. So with that in mind we could really do with a performance and a result that sees us all over our opponents like a tramp eating chips.
Om nom Nomme.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)