Scandinavian weekly round up

by Ben Cullimore

Scandinavia

Danish Superliga – Round 25

At the end of Round 25, we have a new name at the top of the Danish Superliga table. Aalborg have finally snatched first place from Midtjylland, and nobody can argue that they do not deserve to lead the way with only eight games left to play. To make it even sweeter for the boys from Nordjyske Arena, it was their victory against Midtjylland on Saturday that allowed them to take top spot, as they saw off early pressure by the former league leaders to beat them 3-2 in front of 11,500 fans at MCH Arena in Herning.

The hosts were ahead after only 14 minutes through Nigerian striker Sylvester Igboun, who has now scored eight goals this season, equaling his tally for the last two seasons, but two goals in the space of ten minutes from youngsters Nicolaj Thomsen and Lukas Spalvis gave Aalborg a 2-1 lead going into the half time break. The scoreline stayed at 2-1 until Midtjylland equalised through Petter Andersson with quarter-of-an-hour left to play, but Aalborg fought back once again and 19-year-old Lukas Spalvis, a real revelation with six goals in his last four games in all competitions, was on hand to grab the winner with his second goal of game, a wonderful volley from a beautifully placed Kasper Kusk cross, just nine minutes later.

The gap between the two sides at the top is only one point, but Aalborg, who have only lost once in the league in their last 13 games, are surely the favourites to lift the title. Midtjylland have stumbled recently, resulting in them losing three of their last five games, although two of those came against Aalborg.

Midtjylland’s latest defeat also leaves them six points ahead of København and Brøndby, who were both victorious in their respective games this weekend. After going three games without a win, København got back to winning ways with a routine 2-0 victory at home to bottom-of-the-table SønderjyskE – thanks to first-half goals from Daniel Braaten and Cristian Bolaños, which were also their first league goals for the club this season – whilst Brøndby narrowly beat fifth-place Esbjerg at home on Sunday evening, with Andrew Hjulsager’s well-crafted 42nd-minute goal all that separated the two sides when the final whistle went. Six points is now the gap between the two sides, and the defeat leaves Esbjerg with only one win in their last four league games, a stark contrast to the fine post-Christmas form that they found themselves in shortly after the Superliga’s restart.

This weekend’s defeat also leaves Esbjerg equal on points with Nordsjælland, who are slowly but surely working their way up the table and towards a European spot. They are now unbeaten in their last three league games after they were involved in a goalless draw with Vestsjælland in Slagelse on Monday evening. The draw is not an ideal result for either side – particularly the hosts, who remain just one point clear of the relegation zone and with only one win in their last 10 league games – but, of course, it is far better than a defeat, and for Nordsjælland it allows them to head into next Monday’s important clash at home to Esbjerg with their unbeaten run still intact.

A defeat would have seen Vestsjælland drop into the relegation zone, as 11th-place Viborg fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at home to Odense, despite being reduced to 10 men with just under 20 minutes left to play. Odense’s two goals were both scored by Norwegian striker Mostafa Abdellaoue within the opening half an hour, but Thomas Dalgaard, the league’s top goalscorer with 16 goals, pulled a goal back for the hosts with little under two minutes of the first half left to play. Macedonian silver fox Aleksandar Stankov rose high to head in an equaliser 10 minutes after the restart and, even with just 10 men on the pitch after Nicholas Gotfredsen was shown a second yellow card in the 72nd minute, Viborg were able to hold on to a much-needed, and well-deserved, point.

Sitting just two points clear of the relegation zone are AGF, and they are arguably the club that are most in danger of falling into the dreaded drop zone in the coming weeks. They started March in sixth place, but have rapidly dropped further towards the relegation zone after a string of poor results, and this weekend was no different. They were beaten 1-0 by Randers, a side that before this weekend had only managed to win once in their last 10 league games and were looking likely to drop into the relegation zone themselves if results did not improve. With just a minute left to play in their clash on Friday evening, it looked as if they were going to have to leave NRGi Park with just one point – one that would leave them equal on points with Viborg – but substitute Ronnie Schwartz, their saviour on so many occasions this season, scored an 89th-minute goal to steal his side a vitally important win. Randers are equal on points with AGF, but go into next weekend’s clash against Viborg, a game that they will be well aware that they desperately need to win, with a new found confidence and hope that they can embark on a last minute push to avoid relegation to the 1st Division.

Allsvenskan – Round 2

Thankfully, the tragedy that marred the opening round of the 2014 Allsvenskan season was not repeated this weekend, and all eight games went ahead without too many problems.

The only issue that arose occurred in Malmö FF’s 3-0 win away to IFK Göteborg, where the players had to momentarily leave the field just before kick off after a large amount of flares that had been smuggled into the stadium were set off along the side of the pitch where the away fans were housed. Referee Michael Lerjeus decided to take the players off whilst the security forces dealt with the problem, but, luckily, the delay was not a long one, and the game went ahead without any trouble after that. As many expected, Malmö FF had breezed past newly-promoted Falkenberg in their opening game of the season, but, despite how impressive they were throughout the whole of last year, few would have guessed that they also would have beaten IFK Göteborg, last season’s third-place finishers, in similarly fine fashion. They were ahead after only eight minutes through Guillermo Molins, and the captain was on hand 20 minutes later to double their lead with a wonderfully cheeky chip over IFK Göteborg goalkeeper John Alvbåge. The hosts settled slightly after Molins’ second goal and regained their composure, but Malmö FF struck again with eight minutes left to play when Markus Rosenberg, back in Malmö after leaving West Bromwich Albion in February, scored the first goal of his second spell at the club to wrap up a comfortable victory and extend new manager Åge Hareide’s dream start to the season. Rosenberg had a torrid time at West Bromwich Albion, failing to score in 28 appearances for the club, and this weekend’s goal was his first since April 2012, when he scored Werder Bremen’s only goal in 3-1 defeat away to Wolfsburg.

Örebro have also had a dream start to 2014, and they are currently the only other side alongside Malmö FF with two wins from their opening two games of the season. Like last Sunday, they left it late in their game against Mjällby on Tuesday evening, with Shpëtim Hasani sending a bullet header into the back of the net with just three minutes left to play to steal the victory.

Helsingborg and Djurgården, whose clash against one another last weekend was postponed at the end of the first half due to crowd trouble, were both involved in their first full games of the season on Saturday, although things went far better for the latter than they did for the former. Djurgården comfortably beat Halmstad 3-0 at home, thanks to goals from Martin Broberg, Aleksandar Prijović and Amadou Jawo, whilst Helsingborg suffered a 2-0 defeat away to Norrköping. After a goalless first half, 21-year-old Christoffer Nyman put the hosts ahead with a deft side-footed shot past Helsingborg goalkeeper Pär Hansson after a great break down the right flank by Alexander Fransson, and Rawez Lawan doubled the lead and wrapped up the win just two minutes later after another period of great build-up play, this time down the left wing.

Mans Söderqvist scored twice last Sunday to help Kalmar to a 2-1 win away to Brommapojkarna, and the 21-year-old did so again this weekend to help salvage a point for his side in a tough game at home to Åtvidaberg on Monday evening. Mohammed Abubakari, who also hit the back of the net in the opening round, fired Åtvidaberg into the lead after 17 minutes with a great strike from 25 yards out, but Söderqvist took advantage of poor defending 20 minutes later to head Kalmar back into the game. Åtvidaberg were back in front 16 minutes into the second half, however, after Brazilian striker Ricardo Santos, another of last weekend’s goalscorers, curled his shot around the out-stretched hand of Kalmar’s Norwegian goalkeeper Lars Cramer with half-an-hour left to play, and it looked as if it would prove to be the winning goal as the full-time whistle drew near, but Söderqvist was there to spoil the party for Åtvidaberg once again, tapping the ball into the back of the net with ease in the 93rd minute to earn the hosts a well-deserved draw.

Elfsborg, the side that had lost against Åtvidaberg last weekend, were involved in an action-packed game against Häcken that saw four goals scored in the final 20 minutes. Elfsborg veteran, and former Southampton player, Anders Svensson opened the scoring on 72 minutes, before Johan Larsson doubled their lead just six minutes later with a long-range half-volley that will surely be in contention for goal of the season come the end of the year. Congolese midfielder René Makondele pulled a goal back for Häcken five minutes later, but their hopes of salvaging a point were ruined when Emil Wahlström bundled over Lasse Nilsson in the penalty area, allowing the Elfsborg striker to wrap up victory for his side from the penalty spot.

There were also late goals in Gefle’s game at home to AIK, where the visitors had to strike twice in 12 minutes to avoid a second straight defeat. Gefle, who drew 2-2 with Mjällby in their opening game of the season, went ahead through new Liberian striker Dioh Williams after 50 minutes, but young centre-back Alexander Milošević equalised for AIK on the 74th minute with his first goal for the club in almost two years. Gefle should have held on for a draw, but they let their concentration slip in the closing moments of the game, and with four minutes left to play a terrible defensive error allowed Kennedy Igboananike to volley in AIK’s winning goal.

Falkenberg struggled in their opening game of the season against reigning champions Malmö FF, but on Saturday they picked up their first ever Allsvenskan victory, thanks to a 1-0 win at home to Brommapojkarna. English-born New Zealander Dan Keat scored Henrik Larsson’s side’s only goal after just 12 minutes, inflicting another league defeat on Brommapojkarna, who are one of only two sides to lose both of their opening games.

Tippeligaen – Round 2

After a fantastic opening two games of the 2014 season, newly-promoted Stabæk lead the way at the top of the Tippeligaen table, much to the surprise of most fans of Norwegian football. This weekend’s victory came against Brann, a side that many have tipped for success this season but have stumbled in their first two clashes of the new season, leaving them bottom of the table and the only side without any points so far.

They fell a goal behind to Stabæk after only five minutes when Franck Boli, the Bærum side’s 20-year-old Ivorian striker, skipped past Markus Jonsson and Vadim Demidov before firing past Piotr Leciejewski, but Jakob Orlov, recently signed from Allsvenskan side Gefle, headed in his first goal for the club just four minutes later. The scores would remain equal until 10 minutes after the start of the second half when Boli was on hand again to fire Stabæk into the lead, and, despite Brann’s best efforts, which included teenager Kasper Skaanes seeing his half-volleyed effort hitting the post, the visitors held on to complete a dream opening two rounds for new boss Bob Bradley.

Two points behind Stabæk are Lillestrøm, Odd, Sarpsborg 08 and Strømsgodset, who all remain unbeaten. Lillestrøm were the happiest of the lot this weekend, thanks to their 4-1 win at home to Sandnes Ulf, who have seemingly crumbled after their admirable 1-1 draw against Odd last Sunday. It took Lillestrøm until the 45th minute to go ahead, however, after Tijan Jaiteh brought down Pálmi Rafn Pálmason in the penalty area, allowing Petter Vaagan Moen to convert from the spot, and they then doubled their lead thirteen minutes after the restart thanks to Pálmason’s back post tap-in. Chilean striker Diego Rubio, on loan from Sporting Clube de Portugal’s reserve team, scored his first Tippeligaen goal after linking up well with Steven Lennon on the edge of the Lillestrøm penalty area to pull a goal back for Sandnes Ulf 10 minutes later, but all of his hard work was undone by goalkeeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson, also a recent acquisition for the club, who fumbled the ball into the back of his own net just moments after Aksel Skjølsvik had been shown a second yellow card for a challenge from behind on Moryké Fofana. With the three points already in the bag, substitute Ohi Omoijuanfo joined in on the fun by firing in from 25 yards out to pick up his first goal since scoring against Sandnes Ulf in the middle of May last year.

As for Odd, they kicked off their home campaign with a great 2-1 win against Molde, thanks to second-half goals from Elbasan Rashani and Jone Samuelsen. Molde went ahead after 41 minutes through a header from Daniel Berg Helstad, whose earlier headed effort had been cleared off the line, but Odd came out for the second half looking like a completely different side, and Håvard Storbæk whipped a wonderful cross into the path of Rashani, who fired the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-1 after 50 minutes, and just three minutes later he sent an almost identical cross into the box, this time to Samuelsen, who slid in to poke the ball past Ørjan Nyland in the Molde goal and help Odd to their first win of 2014.

Sarpsborg 08 and Strømsgodset were both held to draws this weekend, against Sogndal and Viking, respectively. The reigning champions were involved in a goalless draw with the latter side in Stavanger on Friday evening, in a game in which the hosts came closest to winning. Veton Berisha was arguably their most dangerous man up front, but a combination of good goalkeeping from Adam Larsen Kwarasey and poor finishing from 19-year-old Norwegian left Viking still in search of their opening win.

Meanwhile, Sarpsborg 08 were held to a 1-1 draw by Sogndal on Sunday, despite going ahead after only two minutes. Franck Dja Djédjé, the former Paris Saint-Germain striker, who the club signed from Ukrainian side Chornomorets at the end of March, scored his first goal for Sarpsborg 08 shortly after the start of the game with a wonderful low shot from the corner of the penalty area, but the beauty of his goal was beaten 11 minutes into the second half when Ulrik Flo unleashed a rocket of a half-volley to score one of the best goals of the weekend, and, most importantly, win Sogndal their first point of the season.

Rosenborg, arguably the favourites for the title, remain without a win after drawing 1-1 with Aalesund on Saturday evening. Michael Barrantes had two wonderful opportunities to put Aalesund ahead in either half – one of which was a one-on-one effort with goalkeeper Alexander Lund Hansen that ended up hitting the crossbar – but it was Peter Orry Larsen that put Tangotrøyene into the lead on the 56th minute with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area that left Hansen rooted to the spot in the Rosenborg goal. However, Rosenborg fought back and equalised through Riku Riski with 15 minutes left to play, but they were unable to capitalise on the Finnish striker’s goal and both sides were forced to leave Color Line Stadion with a point each.

Both Start and Vålerenga lost by two-goal margins in their opening games last weekend, but both bounced back with 3-1 wins on Sunday. Start won 3-1 at home to Haugesund, although they spent 50 minutes of the game a goal down and had to score three times in six minutes to secure the victory. Swedish striker Pontus Engblom, back at the club after a second loan spell at Swedish second-tier side GIF Sundsvall, put Haugesund ahead 23 minutes into the game with his first Tippeligaen goal since October 2012, but it was Babacar Sarr, Markus Berger and Guðmundur Kristjánsson that ruined the day for Haugesund with three quick-fire goals in the second half. Sarr equalised on the 71st minute with his first goal for the club, a header from a Zlatko Tripić free kick just a minute after coming on for Fernando Paniagua, before Berger, the extremely experienced Austrian defender recently signed from Chornomorets, joined the score sheet with a header of his own. Kristjánsson then wrapped up the win with a fantastic long-range strike, leaving Haugesund no chance of fighting their way back into the game.

As for Vålerenga, their 3-1 win came at home to Bodø/Glimt, the newly-promoted side that had managed to pick up an impressive point against Aalesund in their first game back in the top flight. Vålerenga lacked any sort of attacking menace when they faced Molde last weekend, but Vidar Örn Kjartansson, who joined the club from Icelandic side Fylkir on the final day of 2013, took just seven minutes to fire his side into the lead with a wonderfully skilful side-footed volley from an acute angle. Trond Olsen, back at Bodø/Glimt after six years away from the club, equalised 30 minutes later, and the two sides went into the half time break with the scores level at 1-1. It remained that way until Rasmus Lindkvist, recently signed from Swedish side Östersunds FK, half-volleyed Vålerenga into the lead with little over 10 minutes left to play, and Kjartansson finished off a well-deserved victory with his second goal of the game, this time from the penalty spot after Vieux Yakhya Sané handled the ball in the penalty area on the stroke of full time.

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