Five things we learned from the weekend in Scandinavia

by Ben Cullimore

Scandinavia

Brann are immediately rewarded by their superstar acquisition

When the rumour broke that Marcus Pedersen had been spotted back in Norway, the last place that many thought he would be heading to was Bergen. There were whispers that he was bound for Rosenborg (an obvious choice, given their incredible wealth), whilst others claimed that it was league leaders Molde that had their eyes on the 24-year-old (another good bet, given their dominance over the rest of the league this season), but in the end the Norway international and former Vitesse striker was unveiled as the latest signing for Brann, a club that, in stark contrast to recent years, are languishing in the relegation zone with 10 games left to play. However, the acquisition of Pedersen – once hailed as Norway’s next great striker – has given Brann the lift that they desperately needed, not just off the pitch but on it as well. After scraping a 1-0 win against Aalesund last week, Brann faced a tough clash against Rosenborg this weekend, one that, under the circumstances, many inside Brann Stadion were not confident of winning.

However, the tide may be turning for the 2007 Tippeligaen champions, and Pedersen played a huge part in that change of fortune this week. The hosts found themselves 2-0 ahead early on thanks to goals from Daniel Mojsov and Kasper Skaanes and, after competently weathering a Rosenborg storm in the second half, Pedersen then wrapped up the win in the most perfect fashion; with the ball at his feet 30 yards out, the fearless young striker decided to go for goal, firing a rocket of a shot past the outstretched hand of Alexander Lund Hansen that flew into the top right-hand corner of the net and sent the crowd into a frenzy of joy and disbelief. There are few better ways to mark your début than with a goal, particularly one as spectacular as Pedersen’s against a team as feared as Rosenborg. The victory – only Brann’s fifth of the season – moves them to within two points of Sogndal, and a win against Pedersen’s old club Vålerenga on Saturday could finally see them exit the relegation zone after spending so long in the bottom two.

Minnows Hobro continue to thrive, whilst giants København struggle

The start of the new Danish Superliga season has thrown up several surprises, with the most notable of these being newly-promoted Hobro’s fantastic start to their first ever top-flight campaign. Despite an impressive performance in the 1st Division last year, few expected Hobro to take to life in the Superliga so comfortably, with only one of their opening five clashes ending in defeat. The tiny side have already claimed the scalps of Brøndby and København (they comfortably beat the latter side 3-0 last weekend in one of the biggest ever Superliga shocks) and this week a strong and confident performance saw them hold Nordsjælland to a goalless draw at home, sending them just two points behind league leaders Midtjylland in second place.

In stark contrast, København, the giants of the league and the team to beat every season, have had a poor start to the season, picking up only one win whilst losing their last two consecutive league games. This weekend’s defeat came at home to Midtjylland, who took advantage of a lack of concentration and sloppiness in the last 10 minutes to win 2-1 in front of 13,000 disgruntled fans at Parken. The 10-time champions, who have won four of the last six Superliga titles, easily boast the strongest team in the league this season but lacklustre performances have left them languishing just outside the relegation zone whilst minnows Hobro go from strength to strength at the top of the table. Whilst the season is still young and there is plenty of football left to play, manager Ståle Solbakken will have to act quickly if he is to stop this poor run of form turn into a far more serious concern for a club that have not finished outside of the top three in the past 14 years.

Mjällby are handed a much-needed boost by the return of Christian Wilhelmsson

Mjällby have been enduring a tough time near the bottom of the Allsvenskan table recently, with, before this week, only one of their last six league clashes ending in a win. With the final third of the season fast approaching, the struggling side needed something – or someone – to come along and turn around their poor form, and fast. Luckily for Anders Linderoth and his men, they just might have found it in an old face that many thought would never be seen again in Sölvesborg. After 15 years away from the club playing for sides as diverse as Anderlecht, Bolton Wanderers and Al-Hilal, 34-year-old Sweden international Christian Wilhelmsson has returned to the club where he started his career so many years ago, and the fan favourite seems to have brought a much-needed dose of good luck with him.

Wilhelmsson started on the bench for Mjällby’s narrow 1-0 defeat against Örebro last weekend but was handed a start in this week’s must-win clash at home to fellow strugglers Norrköping, and the veteran made an immediate impact, opening the scoring after just six minutes with a slick shot past goalkeeper David Mitov-Nilsson after embarking on a marauding run down the left flank. After Kristian Haynes had doubled their lead 24 minutes later, Wilhelmsson was then on hand to increase their lead to three goals – essentially wrapping up the victory with almost two-thirds of the game still to play – in the 34th minute, this time from the penalty spot after Robin Strömberg was clumsily brought down by Christopher Meneses in front of goal. The winger’s finish was as cool and calm as ever, bringing a sense of relief to those inside Sölvesborg whilst also giving them hope that they can embark on a late escape from the dreaded drop zone. They now face tough clashes against Djurgården, Helsingborg and Häcken in their next three league games, but the experience and feel-good factor that Wilhelmsson has brought back to the club could prove to be vital in these difficult times.

15-year-old Ødegaard proves his worth with three spectacular assists

Martin Ødegaard has not only got the whole of Norway talking but every European football fan from Reykjavík to Rostov-on-Don too. At only 15 years of age, the talented midfielder has already become an important part of Strømsgodset’s title-chasing side, earning him plaudits from his fellow Tippeligaen players as well as the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. He’s proven himself to be fearless and confident in equal measure, perfectly aware of how good he is and not afraid to take on anyone who crosses his path; the fact that the majority of players that he comes up against are almost twice his age does nothing to deter him from his goal of showcasing the abundance of skill that he has been blessed with. And this weekend’s clash against Start was no exception, as the youngster once again ran the show, helping Strømsgodset to come from a goal down to finally win 3-2 in Kristiansand on Friday evening with three wonderful assists, two of which were converted by recently-signed Belgian striker Marvin Ogunjimi, whom Ødegaard has praised for the understanding that the two share in front of goal.

It was on show at Sør Arena, with the former Mallorca man first converting a fantastic cross from Ødegaard before heading in a perfectly accurate corner kick sent in by the 15 year old with little over 20 minutes left to play. Norway manager Per-Mathias Høgmo will soon be announcing the squad that he will bring to Wembley to take on England in September and many are calling for Ødegaard to be included, despite his age. If he does make an appearance, he will become the youngster ever international debutant in Norwegian history, and, based on his superb performances so far this season, it is difficult to argue that it is not exactly what he deserves.

The future looks worrying for struggling Norrköping

The bottom (and in some cases the middle) of the Allsvenskan table has remained constantly tight and fiercely contested throughout the season, and with 10 games of the season left to play it is showing no signs of changing any time soon. Just six points separate 15th-place Mjällby, who sit in the relegation zone, and eighth-place Åtvidaberg, and half of the bottom six sides have won two of their last three league clashes, meaning that the club that find themselves sitting in the relegation play-off spot in 14th place changes almost every week. However, whilst the sides around them continue to pull off impressive, and much needed, victories, Norrköping are finding points hard to come by, with only two of their last five league games not ending in defeats and only one of their last eight ending in a win.

This poor run of form, exacerbated by this weekend’s last-minute 2-1 defeat against 12th-place Halmstad, has left Norrköping in a hole that is getting deeper and deeper with each week that passes. They are now the club that find themselves in the relegation play-off spot, just three points clear of Mjällby ahead of back-to-back tough clashes against league leaders Malmö FF and second-place AIK. To make matters worse, they are having no luck at either end of the pitch; their record of 34 goals conceded so far this season is only marginally better than Halmstad and bottom side Brommapojkarna, whilst they have only managed to score 22 goals in 20 games, only two more than Mjällby, who currently have the worst record in the league. Whilst they are by no means guaranteed to be fighting to avoid relegation come November, the signs are certainly not looking good for Norrköping as we enter the final third of what has been a truly fascinating season.

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