Many observers expect Rosenborg BK's 13-year grip on the Norwegian championship to be severely tested when the 2005 season begins on Sunday.
The last team to beat Rosenborg to the title were Viking FK in 1991, although Vålerenga IF went desperately close last term. Only a 90th-minute goal from Tippeligaen top scorer Frode Johnsen against SFK Lyn Oslo on the final day secured the Trondheim outfit their crown on goal difference from Vålerenga, and the latter club have made a number of quality signings in their quest to go one better.
Coach Kjetil Rekdal has signed South African international Mbulelo Mabizela to shore up his defence as Vålerenga attempt to go one better this time, while SK Brann are also considered potential championship challengers as they seek their first title since 1963. Rosenborg admit that 2004 was a bad year for the club and aim to reiterate their dominance in a customary manner - claiming the championship with matches to spare.
But few believe it will be so easy, a fact underlined by the champions' 2-0 loss to Viking in a pre-season friendly. Many commentators have suggested that Viking - now under the guidance of former FC Internazionale Milano and Switzerland coach Roy Hodgson - and Lillestrøm SK could both be dark horses in what is gearing to be the most open season for many years.
Almost 6,000 people attended the Viking friendly as predictions of an improvement on last year's record attendances of more than 1.4 million for Tippeligaen matches look likely to be met. In addition, the two promoted clubs, IK Start and Ålesunds FK, have strong and loyal fan bases. Aalesund are trying to ensure their move to a new stadium is completed before the big kick-off, and such is the interest from supporters that the club have had to stop selling season tickets.
Nevertheless, both newcomers are expected to struggle. FK Bodø/Glimt and Molde FK are also seen as relegation candidates, as are Fredrikstad FK after former Norway coach Egil Olsen endured a torrid pre-season. A series of injuries have deprived the team of a number of key players and the loss has been reflected by a poor series of friendly performances.
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