Scandinavian weekly round up

by Ben Cullimore
ScandinaviaDanish Superliga – Round 24

After two consecutive defeats, Danish Superliga leaders Midtjylland got back to winning ways this weekend, keeping them ahead of an incredibly strong and determined Aalborg side, albeit only just. Midtjylland were in action away to Randers, who are struggling near the bottom of the table, and left AutoC Park Randers with a comfortable 3-0 win under their belts, thanks to a first-half goal from Dutch striker Tim Janssen – his first since December 2012 – and goals towards the end of the second half from 19-year-old Pione Sisto and Sylvester Igboun.

The victory keeps Midtjylland two points ahead of Aalborg, who were required to bounce back from a poor defeat of their own this weekend. Bottom-of-the-table SønderjyskE shocked everybody by beating Aalborg, arguably the strongest side in the league at the moment, 3-2 last Sunday afternoon, but the second-place side more than made up for last week’s disappointing performance by winning 2-1 at home to reigning champions København. They were ahead after only 10 minutes, when Rasmus Thelander was on hand to poke Kasper Kusk’s saved shot over the line, and they remained a goal ahead until the 83rd minute, when Olof Mellberg took advantage of his height to head in an equaliser.

However, the scoreline was tied at 1-1 for less than a minute before substitute Jeppe Curth scored what would prove to be the winning goal for Aalborg with an equally good header at the other end. Aalborg now face Midtjylland away from home on Saturday in a game that could decide who lifts the Superliga trophy at the end of the season. As for third-place København, who sit seven points behind Aalborg as a result of this weekend’s defeat, they have now failed to win in their last three league games, their worst run since the start of the season when they were winless in their opening six clashes.

To make matters worse for last year’s champions, they are now equal on points with local rivals Brøndby, who beat 11th-place Viborg on Sunday. Paraguayan striker José Ariel Núñez, who joined the club from Libertad in January, scored his first goal, and the game’s only goal, seven minutes into the second half to move his club closer to their rivals and away from Esbjerg, who are fast approaching after extending their unbeaten run to six games on Saturday. They were only able to draw 0-0 with Vestsjælland in a dull game at Blue Water Arena, but the point means that they are just three points behind Brøndby ahead of their clash against one another on Sunday evening.

The middle of the table remains incredibly congested, and the gap between Esbjerg and sixth-place Nordsjælland is now only one point after last season’s runners-up beat AGF by a single goal in Monday evening’s only game. Nicolai Stokholm scored the goal with little over 20 minutes left to play, and the victory is his side’s second in as many weeks. After a mediocre season that has seen them lose more games than they have won, consistency is vital if Nordsjælland are to have any hope of qualifying for Europe.

AGF, meanwhile, are three points behind Nordsjælland but now sit dangerously close to the relegation zone, which could easily swallow up any of the sides in the bottom half of the table over the next few weeks if results do not go their way. Vestsjælland sit two points behind AGF in ninth place with 27 points overall, whilst both 10th-place Randers and 11th-place Viborg (the latter of whom sit in the relegation zone) are tied on 26 points. Bottom-of-the-table SønderjyskE have 24 points, but they could have joined Randers and Viborg on 26 if it wasn’t for a last-minute Darko Bodul goal in their game away to Odense on Friday evening. Tommy Bechmann, who has arguably been the side’s most important player in the last few weeks, put SønderjyskE ahead on the stroke of half-time with a great half-volley (which, replays showed, should have been ruled out for offside), and it wasn’t until the 79th minute that Bodul was able to equalise for the hosts. However, SønderjyskE were back in front eight minutes later when 19-year-old Mikael Uhre scored his first senior goal, but Odense pushed and pushed and were rewarded three minutes into added time when Bodul fired in from the edge of the penalty area to salvage a point for the seventh-place side. Both sides are now unbeaten in their last three league games, but six points and, most crucially, four places separate them.

Allsvenskan – Round 1

The 2014 Allsvenskan season kicked off this weekend, but it was unfortunately marred by tragedy, as a Djurgården supporter was beaten to death in Helsingborg before the game between the two sides at Olympia on Sunday afternoon. Supporters of both clubs clashed outside the stadium before kick-off, and the fan was taken to hospital in a critical state after, according to Skåne police, he was attacked with an object to the head. Despite the violence, the game went ahead, but problems continued and fans stormed the pitch shortly before half-time, forcing the referee to abandon the match in an attempt to put an end to the trouble.

The day’s four other games went ahead, however, with the most convincing win coming from Malmö FF, who beat newly-promoted Falkenberg 3-0. Despite the scoreline, the win was not as comfortable as it seems, as the reigning champions had to wait until the 74th minute until they were able to go a goal ahead. Magnus Eriksson got the opening goal, before 21-year-old Simon Thern scored twice in the last five minutes to wrap up all three points, much to the delight of the majority of the 20,000 fans inside Swedbank Stadion, not to mention new manager Åge Hareide.

Just north of Malmö in Halland County, the other newly-promoted side, Örebro, fared much better than Falkenberg, winning 2-1 against Halmstad. Örebro went 1-0 down on the stroke of half-time after Icelandic midfielder Kristinn Steindórsson linked up wonderfully with fellow countryman Guðjón Baldvinsson before curling the ball into the back of the net, but last year’s Superettan runners-up equalised just a minute later when Shpëtim Hasani rose high to mark their return to the top flight with a great header. The scoreline remained at 1-1 for the majority of the second half, but with only nine minutes left to play, Mohammed Saied unleashed a fantastic volley from the edge of the penalty area that tore through the static Halmstad defence and left goalkeeper Stojan Lukić with no chance of saving it.

Gefle were handed a dream start in their game away to Mjällby when they found themselves 2-0 up after only 23 minutes, thanks to goals from Jonas Lantto and newly-signed Liberian striker Dioh Williams. However, a determined Mjällby side fought back and found themselves just a goal behind six minutes later when 21-year-old Mattias Håkansson’s shot from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection and beat Emil Hedvall in the Gefle goalmouth. With just two minutes of the first half remaining, the hosts hit the back of the net again, this time through another youngster, Andreas Blomqvist, and, despite good chances for both, neither side were able to score again in a less action-packed second half.

Brommapojkarna ended 2013 on a four-game winless run, and that was extended to five this weekend when they lost 2-1 at home to Kalmar. 21-year-old Måns Söderqvist scored a goal in either half to put the visitors 2-0 ahead after 54 minutes, but Gabriel Petrović pulled one back for Brommapojkarna just a minute later to give them hope of a comeback. However, any hopes of one were quickly thwarted by Jacob Une-Larsson when he was shown a second yellow card with little over 20 minutes left to play, and the one-man advantage allowed Kalmar to see out the remainder of the match with little difficulty.

After Sunday’s remaining games went ahead without any hitches, the violence returned on Monday evening, with AIK’s clash at home to IFK Göteborg seeing trouble both on and off the pitch. Early in the second half, with IFK Göteborg 1-0 up after an early goal from Danish striker Lasse Vibe, the stadium’s fire alarm went off as a result of flares that had been thrown onto the pitch, forcing referee Stefan Johannesson to temporarily halt the game, during which time a supporter ran onto the field. The interruption did not last long, but just 10 minutes later AIK defender Per Karlsson was a shown a straight red card after clashing with Vibe on the edge of the penalty area. The hosts struggled to deal with an impressive IFK Göteborg side from then onwards, and substitute Malick Mané, recently acquired from Norwegian club Sogndal, confirmed the visitors’ victory with his first goal for the club on the 86th minute. Around that time, crowd trouble reared its ugly head again, and police later confirmed that a nine-year-old boy had been hit on the head with a flare that was thrown by one of the supporters in the final moments of the match.

Back in Göteborg, two second-half goals in quick succession secured Häcken their first points of the year and helped them to a 2-0 win against Norrköping. Martin Ericsson took advantage of a poor defensive error by Christopher Menses to fire his side into the lead shortly after the start of the second half, and Moestafa El Kabir, the club’s top goalscorer last season and the fourth best in the league, wrapped up the win with a great volleyed shot just five minutes later.

Meanwhile, Åtvidaberg were also able to start the 2014 season with three points, thanks to their 2-1 win at home to Elfsborg. Brazilian striker Ricardo Santos put the hosts ahead after 20 minutes with a cheeky chip over Elfsborg goalkeeper Kevin Stuhr-Ellegaard, and Mohammed Akbubakari doubled their lead 46 minutes later when he slid in to convert a low cross from Kristian Bergström. Per Frick pulled a goal back for Elfsborg with just under three minutes left to play, but last season’s sixth-place finishers were unable to mount a comeback and were forced to leave Kopparvallen empty-handed.

Tippeligaen – Round 1

Alongside Allsvenskan, the 2014 Tippeligaen season also kicked off this weekend, and, boy, was it exciting! Well-known for its twists and turns, not to mention its constant upsets and giant-killings, the top flight of Norwegian football is a special league, and 2014 is going to be a very special year if the first round is anything to go by…

At the end of Round 1, Sarpsborg 08, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, and Stabæk, who were promoted from the second-tier at the end of last year after finishing as runners-up, lead the way, after both sides picked up impressive 3-0 victories in their opening games. Sarpsborg 08 masterminded a fantastic win at home to a strong Brann side that many have tipped for success this season. 33-year-old Bojan Zajić, recently signed from fellow Tippeligaen club Vålerenga, scored his first goal for his new side after only 20 minutes to give them the lead, and Aaron Samuel Olanare, also a former Vålerenga player, sealed the win with two coolly converted penalties.

As for Stabæk, new coach Bob Bradley and his boys got off to the best possible start with their win at home to Sogndal. Craig Henderson, Nicolai Næss and Fredrik Brustad all hit the back of the net to successfully send their side over the first hurdle and give all associated with the club a great sense of hope and belief about the season ahead.

Unsurprisingly, Strømsgodset and Molde were the two other sides that were victorious this weekend, although one had to work harder than the other for the three points. Strømsgodset had to come from behind twice in the first half to beat a determined Start side 4-2 at Marienlyst Stadion, but were helped to the win by a great brace from Gustav Wikheim. Wikheim pulled a goal back for the hosts on the 16-minute mark after Ernest Asante had opened the scoring for Start after just 10 minutes, but the Ghanaian striker then hit the back of the net again 10 minutes later to put his side back into the lead. However, it would only last for eight minutes, as Portuguese midfielder Francisco Júnior, on loan from Premier League side Everton, was on hand to equalise for the Drammen-based side with his first league goal for the club. Thomas Sørum then made it 3-2 to Strømsgodset just a minute into the second half, before Wikheim scored again to wrap up all three points.

In contrast to the reigning champions, Molde had a much easier time in their opening game on Friday evening. They beat a mediocre Vålerenga side 2-0 at home, thanks to first-half goals from Vegard Forren and Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson. Many were worried about what might happen to Molde after the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjær to Cardiff City, but former Norway U21 coach Tor Ole Skullerud already seems like a perfect choice by the suits behind the scenes at Aker Stadion.

Rosenborg, arguably the favourites for the title this season, were moments away from a routine win in their opening game in Trondheim on Saturday, but they let their concentration slip in the dying moments, which resulted in a sharing of the points with Viking. Two goals in quick succession from substitutes Mikkel Diskerud and Mikael Dorsin put them ahead with little over 20 minutes left to play, but, with the clock winding down and the victory looking a certainty, 21-year-old Icelandic striker Jón Daði Böðvarsson struck twice in three minutes to steal a point for Viking and break the hearts of the majority of the 16,000 fans inside Lerkendal Stadion.

Aalesund, another side that many have tipped for success this year, also lost a lead and went on to draw their opening game on Sunday. They drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Bodø/Glimt, who are back in Tippeligaen for the first time since 2009 after winning Adeccoligaen so comfortably last season. Both goals came within the first 25 minutes, with Demar Phillips opening the scoring for Aalesund after just 13, before fellow Jamaican Dane Richards equalised for the northerners shortly after.

The remaining two opening round clashes also ended in 1-1 draws, and both saw goals scored in the final moments of the game. Scottish midfielder Steven Lennon put Sandnes Ulf 1-0 up against Odd with 15 minutes left to play when the two sides met at Sandnes Idrettspark on Sunday evening, but 40-year-old Frode Johnsen – last season’s top goalscorer with 16 goals – bundled the ball into the back of the net 10 minutes later to salvage a point for the club from Skien. Meanwhile, Lillestrøm thought that they had scored the winning goal when they went 1-0 ahead against Haugesund through Stian Ringstad, but substitute Christian Gytkjær hit the back of the net five minutes later to force a sharing of the points between the two sides.

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