Champions League exit latest setback for Dortmund’s rising star

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Since bursting on to the big stage less than three years ago, Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland has barely looked back.

The Norway international was still a teenager when he moved from Molde FK to FC Salzburg in January 2019 and proceeded to score 29 goals in 27 games for the Austrian side, including a spectacular hat trick on his Champions League debut.

He then made history by going on to score 10 goals in his first seven appearances in the competition as Salzburg reached the round of 16 in 2019-20, where they were eliminated by Paris Saint-Germain.

After his successful apprenticeship in Austria, Haaland moved on to Dortmund in January 2020 and despite making a considerable step up, the 19-year-old continued to find the net with unrelenting consistency.

He once again kicked things off with a hat trick, coming off the bench in the 70th minute with Dortmund 3-1 down against Augsburg to almost single-handedly propel his team to a resurgent 5-3 comeback victory.

Haaland ended his first calendar year at Dortmund having scored 35 goals in 34 competitive games. He became the first player ever to score 25 goals in his first 25 games, thus breaking a record previously held by legendary Germany striker Uwe Seeler since the 1963-64 season.

His prodigious form in the Champions League continued apace too, with the youngster quickly becoming the fastest-ever player to score 15 and 20 goals in the competition — taking just 12 and 14 games to reach each respective milestone.

However, 2021 has proven to be a little trickier for one of European football’s next generation of superstars, throwing up a series of setbacks from which he will have to overcome and learn from through the rest of his promising career.

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Off the pace in the Bundesliga race

Firstly, Haaland had to watch on as rivals Bayern Munich romped to the 2020-21 Bundesliga title with Dortmund finishing down in third, some 14 points off the champions. He also saw Robert Lewandowski win the Torjagerkanone award as the Bundesliga’s top scorer with ease, netting a record 41 goals to eclipsing his own tally of 27. There was some consolation, however, in Dortmund winning the DFB Pokal, giving Haaland his first trophy in Germany.

Missing out on Euro 2020

Sadly, the European Championship had to go ahead in June 2021 without one of the most exciting young attacking talents in the game after Norway failed to qualify. Haaland had scored 59 goals in 57 appearances over the course of his first two seasons at Dortmund, with many fans keen to witness his prowess on show at a major tournament. Unfortunately, Haaland missed a fair chunk of Norway’s qualifying campaign through injury and failed to score throughout, though he did feature in the playoff defeat against Serbia that ultimately sealed his nation’s fate.

Missing out on the World Cup

Last week, fate ensured that Haaland will also miss out on playing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after Norway once again fell short in their bid to qualify. With their star striker sidelined by a hip injury, Stale Solbakken’s side lost 2-0 against Netherlands in their crucial final Group G qualifier — a game they really had to win to have any chance of reaching next year’s tournament. If Norway qualify for the 2024 European Championship, Haaland will be almost 24 before he finally graces a major finals.

Major injury

Haaland is currently out of action as he contends with what could be the longest injury absence of his career, a hip flexor strain first sustained last month. The striker’s father, Alfie Haaland, recently told Norwegian broadcasters TV2 that he would be surprised if his son returns to first-team duty before January: “If he gets a couple of games in before Christmas, it will be bonus, but even that’s uncertain.”

Dortmund themselves have said that their forward, who has not played since Oct. 19, is likely to miss between six and eight weeks as he continues on his road to recovery. Dortmund’s last match before the Bundesliga’s winter break is on Dec. 18. Haaland had been leading the Bundesliga scoring charts with nine goals in six games before having to sit out of Dortmund’s last three fixtures as well as a clutch of international games.

Champions League elimination

Dortmund really could have done with their main striker leading the line on Wednesday as a 3-1 defeat against Sporting CP signalled the end of their Champions League adventure for the season. Needing to produce at least a draw to retain realistic hopes of making the knockout phase, the German side capitulated at the Estadio Jose Alvalade to ensure they will be playing Europa League football once Haaland returns to the fold next year.

Losing records already

On the night Dortmund were ejected from the Champions League, the bad news just kept coming for Haaland after seeing one of his competition records usurped. Sebastian Haller, a comprehensive flop at West Ham United but miraculously rejuvenated at Ajax, scored his ninth goal in his first five Champions League appearances by scoring twice in the Dutch club’s 2-1 win over Besiktas. Haller’s second goal of the night saw the Ivory Coast international best Haaland’s previous record of scoring eight times in his first five outings in the competition, which wasn’t set all that long ago.

Of course, though the setbacks might have come thick and fast for Haaland so far this year, if this rough patch is as bad as things get then he probably hasn’t got much to worry about. Taken in isolation, most are disappointing blips in a fabulous career that has already launched into the stratosphere with a meteoric trajectory.

Hopefully, this is a tricky period that Haaland can look back on in years to come and view as a momentary hiccup that ultimately spurred him on to even bigger and better things.

He may have missed out on the Euros, the World Cup and the latter stages of the Champions League in relatively quick succession, but something tells us he’s going to be okay in the long run.



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