Scandinavian weekly round up

by Ben Cullimore

Scandinavia

Danish Superliga – Round 1

The 2014/15 Danish Superliga season kicked off this weekend, with reigning champions Aalborg looking to build on their first league championship in six years, whilst league giants København, who suffered an uncharacteristically chaotic campaign last season, will be desperate to finish at the top of the table after having to settle for a runners-up spot at the end of May.

The 10-times Superliga champions would have been hoping to start the new season with a win, but it was not to be as newly-promoted Silkeborg, back in the Danish top-flight after a year in the 1st Division, held them to a goalless draw at home at Mascot Park. Aalborg suffered the same fate as the club from the capital, too, as they were unable to find the back of the net against a determined SønderjyskE side, with the clash in Haderslev ending 0-0.

Silkeborg are joined in the Superliga by fellow newly-promoted side Hobro, who are making their first appearance in the division in their 101-year history after a fantastic season that saw them finish in second place, just one point behind Silkeborg and eight ahead of nearest rivals Lyngby. This weekend’s game at TRE-FOR Park was always going to be a special occasion for the club that only just narrowly avoided relegation to the third-tier at the end of the 2012/13 season, and the Hobro fans were given even more to cheer about by 21-year-old striker Mads Hvilsom, the club’s top goalscorer last season with 11 goals, who hit the back of the net twice to give them a 2-1 win against Odense. His first, a low strike from the right-hand edge of the penalty area, came after just nine minutes, whilst his second, set up wonderfully by new signing Quincy Antipas, came in the dying moments of the match, just six minutes after Kasper Larsen had headed in an equaliser for the hosts.

Midtjylland looked like they were the favourites to lift the Superliga trophy for much of last season but poor results towards the end of the campaign meant that they had to settle for a third-place finish, with their disappointing last-day defeat to SønderjyskE, and København’s narrow win at home to Odense, eventually sealing their fate. The club’s manager Glen Riddersholm was pictured after the match had finished solemnly sitting alone on the pitch contemplating his side’s last-minute collapse, but there was no sadness showing on the 42-year-old’s face this weekend, as his team started the new campaign in the best possible way by winning 3-1 at home to Brøndby, the side that finished just behind them in fourth place at the end of last season. Nigerian midfielder Rilwan Hassan, who failed to score a single league goal in any of his 21 appearances last term, opened the scoring after 38 minutes with a fantastic long-range half-volley that left Brøndby goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky with no chance, and Morten Rasmussen, the club’s top goalscorer last season with 15 goals, doubled their goal tally 19 minutes into the second half, connecting well with Sylvester Igboun and slotting the ball past Hradecky to give his side a well-deserved 2-0 lead. Brøndby pulled a goal back through Simon Makienok four minutes later but any hopes of a late comeback were ruined by 20-year-old substitute Ebere Paul Onuachu, who scored his first ever goal for the club just four minutes after replacing fellow Nigerian Izunna Uzochukwu to wrap up a comfortable 3-1 victory.

It was a similar story for Nordsjælland, Superliga champions three seasons ago, who were also able to start the new season with three points, although they were made to work much harder by Vestsjælland in Friday evening’s clash at Farum Park. New manager Ólafur Kristjánsson was left scratching his head when he found Nordsjælland 2-0 down after just 29 minutes as a result of a sublime strike from the edge of the box by Rasmus Festersen and an unfortunate own goal scored by Ivan Runje’s outstretched right leg, but his side managed to pull a goal back just before half-time, with Kim Aabech, who had missed the chance to score from the penalty spot shortly beforehand, heading the ball past Thomas Mikkelsen at the back post with just six minutes of the first half remaining. Nordsjælland then came out of the half-time break looking like a more determined and more cohesive unit, and a great performance by youngster Uffe Bech, who scored twice in the latter part of the second half, helped to give Kristjánsson the winning start that he would have been craving all summer long.

With the qualification process for this season’s Europa League competition starting just before the Superliga kicked off, Esbjerg, the only Danish team that have had to play a European qualifying game so far, looked understandably sluggish during their clash this weekend, resulting in a 1-0 defeat at home to Randers on Monday evening. The hosts, who finished in fifth place last season but qualified for the competition as a result of Aalborg winning both the league title and the Danish Cup, had to embark on a long trip to and from Kazakhstan to face Kairat on Thursday evening, meaning that important players such as Mick van Buren and Mohammed Fellah – the latter of whom scored a last-minute equalising goal in Thursday’s clash – were only able to play bit-part roles in Monday’s game at Blue Water Arena. However, despite this, Esbjerg should have come away with a point, as they had an Emil Lyng goal wrongly disallowed for offside in the first half. The disallowed goal would prove to be one of their only clear-cut chances in a game that highlighted their lack of precision in the final third of the pitch. Esbjerg’s Europa League involvement hindered the club’s progress last season and, judging by the impact that last week’s game had on their opening league clash this weekend, it could prove to be a problem once again for Niels Frederiksen’s 26-man squad.

Allsvenskan – Round 15

AIK have been slowly but surely creeping their way towards league leaders Malmö FF over the past few weeks thanks to three wins in a row, and this weekend they were presented with a game that, on paper, they should have won, particularly when one takes into account the fantastic form that they have found themselves in since the middle of April. However, Andreas Alm and his men were sent crashing back down to earth on Sunday as Falkenberg, who have never won a competitive match against the Solna-based side, won 4-1 to deny AIK the chance to close the gap between themselves and Malmö FF to three points. Falkenberg dominated the early moments of the match and were rewarded for their efforts after 24 minutes when Patrik Ingelsten, who joined the club on-loan from Mjällby just seven days beforehand, headed in from close range to put the hosts 1-0 ahead. They held on to their lead until eight minutes after half-time when AIK pulled a goal back through 18-year-old defender Noah Sonko Sundberg, whose goal was his first for the club in only his second ever appearance, but from then onwards Falkenberg looked in complete control, with Stefan Rodevåg, Johannes Vall and Gustaf Nilsson all finding the back of the net to wrap up a 4-1 victory that brings an end to their four-game winless streak.

As a result, Malmö FF now have a healthy lead of six points over AIK, despite the fact that they were held to a 1-1 draw by Kalmar at Guldfågeln Arena on Saturday afternoon. Whilst Kalmar would have welcomed a point against a side that have only lost once so far this season, it means that they drop to fourth place in the table, equal on points with Häcken after the latter side won for the second week in a row to move up into the second of the two Europa League qualification spots. Their latest victory came away to seventh-place Djurgården, with both of their goals – a close-range volley from 18-year-old Carlos Strandberg and a well-worked team goal that was slotted into the back of the net by Martin Ericsson – coming in the opening 21 minutes of the match. Djurgården found it hard to fight back against a determined Häcken side but found the back of the net themselves through Erton Fejzullahu with little over 15 minutes left to play, but it would prove to be too little too late as the visitors held on to pick up a well-deserved three points.

The close nature of the top half of the table is exhibited by the fact that only three points separate sixth-place Elfsborg and second-place AIK, and before this weekend the former side found themselves sitting in fourth place in the table. With AIK and previous third-place occupants Kalmar failing to win this weekend, a victory of two or more goals for Elfsborg would have seen them overtake AIK and move up to second place, but, as has been the case recently, they let themselves down with a poor defensive performance, one that allowed Norrköping to beat them 4-2 with little sign of resistance coming from the 2012 Allsvenskan champions. Elfsborg, like IFK Göteborg, Brommapojkarna and AIK, were in action in the Europa League on Thursday evening, and the 1-0 defeat that they suffered against Azerbaijani side İnter Bakıseemed to have a damaging effect on their performance this weekend. A poor defensive error from Sebastian Holmén allowed Emir Kujović to slot the ball into the back of the net with ease just a minute into the game, and the 26-year-old striker was able to double his goal scoring tally, and his side’s lead, 19 minutes later after comfortably breaking through Elfsborg’s dangerously high defensive line. The visitors did pull a goal back before half-time through Mikkel Beckmann, however, but Norrköping restored their two-goal lead shortly after the restart when Arnór Ingvi Traustason’s long-range effort took a wicked deflection off the outstretched foot of an Elfsborg defender to send it looping over goalkeeper Abbas Hassan’s head, before Alhaji Kamara, marked his return to the squad after his one-game suspension by putting them 4-1 ahead with 34 minutes still to play. Viktor Prodell did pull another goal back for Elfsborg two minutes later but they were unable to embark on a comeback that, quite frankly, would have been undeserved, and as a result Norrköping were able to hold on to record their second win in their last four league games.

The victory leaves Norrköping in eighth place, three points behind Djurgården and equal on nineteen points with Åtvidaberg, who brought an end to their torrid three-game losing streak by beating bottom-of-the-table Brommapojkarna 3-2, thanks to a first Allsvenskan hat-trick for Brazilian striker Ricardo Santos, who has now scored six goals in 15 appearances for his side this season. Brommapojkarna, who clawed their way back from 2-0 down to 2-2 through second-half goals from youngsters Pontus Åsbrink and Christian Kouakou only to concede what would prove to be the winning goal with only five minutes left to play, still have only managed to win once this season, leaving them rooted to the foot of the table with just seven points. They remain four points behind Halmstad, who were beaten 2-0 by Gefle on Saturday, a win that moves the latter side five points clear of the relegation zone in eleventh place, whilst Mjällby, who suffered a 3-1 defeat away to IFK Göteborg with all three of the hosts’ goals being scored by the league’s top goal scorer Lasse Vibe, are a further point ahead in the relegation play-off spot. Mjällby are slowly but surely falling further away from safety, as this weekend saw Örebro pick up a point in a 1-1 draw against Helsingborg, moving them three points clear of the relegation play-off place whilst also keeping them a point behind Helsingborg ahead of next weekend’s important rematch between the two sides at Olympia.

Tippeligaen – Round 16

With league leaders Molde in unstoppable form and racing away towards a third title in four years, the attention of many of the sides just below them seems to have shifted to second and third place, the two spots that will guarantee them Europa League football next season. The fight for European football has been close all season and it became even closer this weekend, with just three points now separating the fifth and second place sides.

Rosenborg now find themselves in second place after embarking on a seven-game unbeaten streak, and this weekend saw them pick up their fourth victory in their last five league games. The win, which came at home to Sogndal, was a narrow one, as the only goal scored came from the penalty spot after 24 minutes, and it was not enough to stop the club’s hierarchy from sacking manager Per Joar Hansen, who has been blamed for an underwhelming season so far. The former Viking assistant boss Kåre Ingebrigtsen – who played for Rosenborg, as well as Manchester City, Strømsgodset and Lillestrøm, for a combined total of ten years when he was a player – was announced as their new coach on Tuesday, taking charge of the club until the end of the season and becoming their 11th manager in the past 12 years in the process.

Ingebrigtsen’s first league challenge will come on Sunday against high-flying Molde, the only Tippeligaen club to only lose once so far this season. They are now unbeaten in 14 league games thanks to their 3-1 win at home to struggling Sandnes Ulf this weekend. Like Rosenborg, the latter side also disposed of their manager this week, with Asle Andersen being relieved of his duties on Wednesday before this weekend’s tough clash. Despite the negativity surrounding the club both on and off the pitch, Sandnes Ulf, who are bottom of the table and desperate to pick up much-needed points, got off to a dream start in Sunday’s clash at Aker Stadion when Fredrik Midtsjø, the former Rosenborg midfielder, put them ahead with a calm side-footed finish past goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland after a sublime one-two move with Diego Rubio on the edge of the box. The goal seemed to bring a sleeping Molde to life and they were back on level terms 22 minutes later when Tommy Høiland, a former Sandnes Ulf player, scored his first goal for the club since returning from his loan spell with Lillestrøm. Høiland then doubled his tally, and Molde’s lead, 20 minutes into the second half, just two minutes after Sandnes Ulf were reduced to 10 men when Aksel Skjølsvik picked up his second yellow card of the game, and the 25-year-old then wrapped up his first Tippeligaen hat-trick nine minutes later to complete another impressive win for the league leaders.

Strømsgodset have been struggling since the departure of former manager Ronny Deila to Celtic, and this weekend saw them lose for the second time in four games when they came up against Vålerenga on Saturday. The game was effectively over before even a quarter of the clash had been played, with both of Vålerenga’s goals – the first scored by 19-year-old Ghayas Zahid, who before this weekend had never scored a league goal for the Oslo-based club, and the second by the league’s current top goalscorer Viðar Örn Kjartansson – coming in the opening 19 minutes. The defeat means that David Nielsen’s side drop down to third place in the table, equal on points with Rosenborg but with a poorer goal difference after only managing to score two goals in the last month and a half. Strømsgodset also now sit just one point ahead of Odd, who were held to a goalless draw by 13th placed Haugesund on Sunday. Vålerenga, meanwhile, sit a further two points behind in fifth place, unbeaten in their last three league games and with only one defeat in the last three months.

Things remain as tight at the bottom of the table as they are at the top, with any of the bottom four sides in immediate danger of slipping into the relegation zone, whilst Bodø/Glimt and Stabæk – who are six and seven points clear of the drop zone, respectively – are also panicking about their chances of survival after finding themselves in poor form recently. Bodø/Glimt suffered a devastating 2-1 defeat away to eighth-place Start on Saturday, with the hosts winning the game with a 93rd-minute goal toe-poked into the back of the net by Ernest Asante from the edge of the penalty area. The defeat leaves Bodø/Glimt with four defeats in their past five games, a far cry from the four-game winning streak that they are embarked on over a 15-day period in May. As for Stabæk, they have lost five of their last six league games but avoided making it six out of six this weekend when they were able to hold Brann to a 1-1 draw, with both of the game’s goals coming in injury time after a frantic last-minute scramble for desperately needed points. Stabæk struck first through a close-range Jon Inge Høiland header but Brann showed the fight and determination that they have been lacking so far this season to equalise just a minute later thanks to Kasper Skaanes, who scored with his head at the other end after being set up by a fantastic cross from the right by substitute Amin Askar. Bob Bradley’s Stabæk side now face tough clashes against Vålerenga, Rosenborg, Molde, Odd and Strømsgodset in their next five league games, leaving them in very real danger of slipping towards the foot of the table.

Brann remain in the relegation zone in 15th place after Friday evening’s draw, and they are now just two points behind both Haugesund and Aalesund, the latter of whom were beaten this weekend for the second game in a row. The defeat came away to Sarpsborg 08, who found themselves 3-0 up after 47 minutes thanks to a first league goal since 2009 from Martin Thømt Jensen, which the defender curled in with great precision just outside the left side of the box, and a Claes Kronberg brace, with both of the Dane’s goals exposing the worrying gaps in Aalesund’s defence. To their credit, the visitors tried to force a comeback, with Peter Orry Larsen and Mostafa Abdellaoue, the latter of whom was making his first appearance for the club since his move from Danish Superliga side København, both scoring in the final half-an-hour, but it was not to be as Sarpsborg 08 held on to win for the second time in their last three league games, moving them up to ninth place in the table – equal on points with eighth-place Start and just two behind both Viking and Lillestrøm, who drew 0-0 against one another on Sunday – in the process.

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