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Why RB Salzburg should be proud of Europa League run

Friday 4th May 2018

From over 150 aspirants, it is now down to two - Atletico Madrid and Marseille. They'll contend the Europa League final. The pair foiled attempts from Arsenal and RB Salzburg respectively on Thursday evening. While it was a familiar collapse by Arsene Wenger's men, Salzburg was extremely brave in defeat. Red Bull have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.

Disappointment, disgust and disbelief trailed Salzburg's exit. The players, as well as over 30,000 fans at Red Bull Arena, suffered hysteria at the same time. Exiting the competition wasn’t particularly strange. Not at all. Besides they’ve not reached this stage in any European event for almost three decades.

However, the manner it happened left a lot to be desired. As the case throughout the tourney, Marco Rose’s men showed courage to overcome a two-goal deficit from France. Red Bulls were in driving seat to return there for the final before an inexcusable referring error.

Substitute Jorge Rolando volleyed home in the 115th minute to snatch a 3-2 aggregate victory. Now that’s not the controversy, though. The preceding corner is. Rolando’s goal came off a wrongly awarded corner-kick with Andre-Frank Zambo’s 20-yard effort deflecting behind off a team-mate. It was a bitter pill for the players to swallow.

To go out in this manner is horrible. Our dream has died. We can be proud, it’s just hard to focus on that right now, striker Fredrik Gulbrandsen moaned.

Indeed, Salzburg should be proud regarding their magnificent feat rather than grumbling, especially as no one really gave them a chance at all; particularly after they were bundled out of the Champions League by Croatian minnows Rijeka.

The takeover by Red Bull in 2006 came with wholesome transformation. Austria into RB - its colours - traditional purple and white to the red and white colours of the energy drink - its badge - now a Red Bull logo - and also its history, from a club that had won three Austrian Bundesliga titles to one that would win eight in the next decade or so.

However, domestic dominance didn't quite transcend to the continent. This season has been something of a one-off, though. Red Bulls' exit from the competition with their heads high. Unbeaten at home, just four sides bettered their 20-goal haul. To reach the semi-final, they topped a group that had Marseille, knocked off Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio – all supposedly stronger teams.

Salzburg achieved this with relatively unknown players born out of the club's developmental program. Among the success stories are Mali internationals Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassekou - both signed as youngsters - and Austrian Xaver Schlager, who joined the academy in 2011.

It's a similar story with the manager, who rose through the youth ranks to take charge of the first team. Rose took over from Oscar Garcia this season to become the 10th Salzburg manager in the Red Bull era. He enjoyed great success with the youth teams at Salzburg, including winning the Europa Youth League title in 2017 after beating Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona en route to the final.

With such youthful team and coach, the future looks exceedingly promising for Salzburg. They should be proud.

Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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