Windsor Park might have been dressed up in branding for Chelsea v Villarreal eight days afterwards, but for Linfield, this was their own European Super Cup game. Ultimately, it was an evening of frustration that left them down, but not out.
After getting through the second leg against Borac Banja Luka unscathed, there was a quick turnaround with Fola Esch arriving just five days later.
A shock to some, who would have been expecting Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus to beat them over two legs. Then again, Fola Esch might have been expecting to face Borac Banja Luka.
What to make of Luxembourg?
Well, Northern Ireland fans will have nightmares of only getting one point against them in Qualifiers for Russia 2014, while Republic of Ireland fans will have nightmares of a home defeat to them in March. At club level, Rangers fans are trying to get over Progres Niederkorn.
Perhaps they aren’t the minnows we automatically think they are?
After all, Dudelange got to the Group Stage of the UEFA Cup in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. However, that has been sandwiched inbetween European exits to UCD and Bohemians in the last six years.
And then, Cliftonville beat Differdange in the UEFA Cup in 2016.
So, in short, no mugs, but they can be beaten.
The prize on offer was a Play-Off tie against Alashkert of Armenia or Kairat or Kazakhstan. Of course, more European heartache against a side from a country that was part of the Soviet Union, after Dinamo Tblisi, Lokomotive Tblisi, Kutaisi, BATE, Qarabag and Zalgiris Vilnius.
Well, as long as we got past Fola Esch first.
There was a decent sized crowd at this, the biggest of the Covid era, not that that has been a barometer. I had a row to myself and was well away from others, so I didn’t feel too worried.
Linfield made a good start to this game, forcing a few set pieces which saw Fola’s keeper have some dodgy moments.
Billy Chadwick, making his first start on loan from Hull City was a buzzy bee (Tiger, surely?), not giving Fola’s defence a minute, snapping at their heels and making some decent runs.
I wasn’t in the ground in time for the team announcements and I thought it was Andrew Clarke, smiling at myself at pulling a fly one on Crusaders. It wasn’t until I checked the teamsheet in my programme that I realised my mistake.
Chadwick was soon to be rewarded when he put Linfield 1-0 up when he picked up on some sloppy possession to run through, and slide the ball under the keeper who was struggling to get back into position after being caught out by his team-mate losing the ball.
An early goal, not as early as the one against Borac Banja Luka, but every bit as welcome.
Just as against Borac Banja Luke, a second goal when on top would be key.
Despite not getting it, it was a more than satisfactory first-half for Linfield, although Fola did have some attacking moments that Linfield were able to repel.
For those sat in the North Stand, it looked like Fola were getting an equaliser early in the second-half when a free-kick hit the net. It was the side netting though.
I was sat behind the goal and knew it wasn’t going in, so just sat there and relaxed. It was enough to worry Chris Johns though, who dived in vain to try and save it.
Linfield then replied with their own period of pressure, the best moment of note was a Jimmy Callacher header on the stretch which hit the top of the net rather than the back of it. The crucial second goal continued to elude Linfield.
That was to become even more apparent for Linfield within a few minutes when Fola equalised on the break. It was a move where it always looked like they were one pass ahead of Linfield’s players. Nobody could get a decisive tackle in to stop a shot from Stefano Bensi curling into the back of the net.
Even though the Away Goal Rule has been done away with, this still felt like a massive goal to concede.
It was a goal that swung the game in Fola’s favour, they were the team now on top.
Last ditch defending from a combination of Chris Johns and Matthew Clarke forced a Fola attacker to hit the side netting from a wide angle, while another fired over from six yards out after a pull back.
Just when it looked like Linfield were going to have at least a draw to take to Luxembourg, Fola got a goal with just three minutes to go.
A softly conceded free-kick hit the post and fell perfectly for a Fola attacker to slot home. You couldn’t say the goal wasn’t coming.
As soon as the game went to 1-1, Linfield became tired and lacking ideas, while Fola became stronger.
In fact, in the short amount of time that remained, it looked like it might go 3-1 rather than 2-2.
Ultimately, an evening of frustration, after such a good start and being in such a strong position.
However, the abolition of the Away Goal Rule gives Linfield even more hope. A win by any score in the away leg, and the worst that will happen will mean the tie goes to extra-time.
The first twenty minutes will give Linfield hope. The final twenty minutes lets them know the task in hand.
Whatever happens, there will be at least one more European game at Windsor Park this season, with Chelsea facing Villarreal in the European Super Cup Final.
I did consider applying, but downloading an app and doing a Covid test was a bit of a pain in the arse for two teams I don’t care about. I’ve entered a few competitions, so you never know.
The night before, Harland and Wolff Welders will play their first game in their new stadium. Very tempted by that. I’ll definitely visit Blanchflower Park at some point before Christmas. The law of averages suggests that they’ll be at home when I have a free Saturday. A short train journey too.
I’m going to Old Trafford next weekend for Manchester United v Leeds, making the most of a late start to the Irish League season.
Whenever that does happen, let’s hope that Linfield are ready. With a bit of luck and hope, they might still be in Europe by the time it starts.