Every year dozens of South American, African and Eastern European players arrive in Scandinavia. The best usually leave for Europe’s bigger leagues, which results in eventful and often quite exciting seasons as teams change. IBWM welcomes Charlie Anderson as our guide to Scandinavian football.
The Tippeligaen (Norwegian Premier League) weekend kicked off in typically understated Scandinavian style. Tromsø, the world’s northernmost top-flight club, emerged from the ethereal gloom of the tundra, rubbed frost from their eyes and trudged southward to play out a grudging 0-0 draw with Haugesund on Saturday.
On Sunday, the big game at both ends of the table was at the Aker Stadion, where 2009 runners-up Molde hosted current second-placed side Vålerenga. Molde have been this season’s big disappointment, not only flirting with the relegation zone but buying it dinner and inviting it out to a quiet weekend in the countryside. Vålerenga, meanwhile, lay nine points behind perennial pace-setters Rosenborg and needed a win to keep their slim title hopes alive. An early goal settled it, veteran striker Morten Berre giving the visitors a fourth-minute lead that they never relinquished.
Molde’s miserable season got worse as fellow strugglers Hønefoss recorded a shock 3-1 win at Europa League-chasing Aalesund, leaving Molde languishing in the relegation play-off spot. Strømsgodset took advantage of Tromsø and Aalesund dropping points, swiftly moving into fourth place after easing to a 3-0 win away to Sandefjord, who are adrift at the bottom of the table with eight points and just one win all season. Just above them are minnows Kongsvinger, whose goalless draw at Odd Grenland was commendable if not particularly useful – the promoted side are still eight points from guaranteed safety. Meanwhile, mid-table sides Stabæk and Lillestrøm locked horns in an epic tussle to find out which one might finish slightly above the other this season (Stabæk won 2-1).
Vålerenga’s win applied some pressure on Rosenborg in much the same way as a whimsical summer breeze puts pressure on the trajectory of an oil tanker. Those hoping for a competitive title race were given a glimmer of hope in the evening kick-off, as the champions twice fell behind at IK Start. A wonderful volley from Markus Henriksen, however, levelled the score before Rade Prica’s header gave the Trondheim giants a 3-2 lead. A quite preposterous save from Daniel Örlund kept it that way, the Rosenborg custodian somehow clawing the excellent Cristian Bolaños’ free-kick onto the crossbar. The match ended in controversy as referee Tommy Skjerven denied Start a late equaliser, deciding that the ball had not crossed the line after a goalmouth scramble. A twenty-second title for Rosenborg is beginning to look like an inevitability. Last night Brann and Viking played out a 3-3 draw.
If the destination of the Norwegian title is often as easy to predict as any election involving Silvio Berlusconi, its counterpart in Sweden is rather like the Labour leadership contest if there were four additional Milibands. Six different teams have been first past the post in the last six Allsvenskan (Swedish top-flight) seasons, and this year could see yet another champion.
Tortuous electoral metaphors aside, this weekend could prove to be a crucial one in Sweden. After a slightly rubbish Friday game between GAIS and Djurgården was settled by a slightly rubbish Djurgården goal, attention turned to long-standing frontrunners Helsingborg, who travelled to third-placed Örebro on Saturday. Having included Erik Edman in the side, the leaders were at a disadvantage from the very start and eventually suffered a crushing 3-0 defeat with Nordin Gerzić (perhaps the best Bosnian midfielder in Sweden) pulling the strings for Örebro in an excellent performance.
Rock-bottom Åtvidaberg were unexpected winners in Saturday’s other game. A cracking opening goal from Oscar Möller sent the promoted side them on their way to a vital 2-0 victory at Brommapojkarna, renewing hopes of survival for Åtvidaberg and deepening the malaise for Bromma, who are without a win in their last five games.
The other Allsvenskan newcomers have given a much better account of themselves this season – Mjällby (not named after the former Celtic defender) are fifth following their 1-1 draw with Trelleborg on Sunday. A lovely Mjällby move ended with Tobias Grahn slotting the ball home, before Kristian Haynes’ cleanly-struck shot across goal snatched a point for the visitors. That draw puts Trelleborg level on points with 2008 champions Kalmar, who are enduring a dreadful season and will be looking apprehensively over their shoulders after a 2-1 loss to Halmstad drags them further towards an unwelcome relegation battle.
In Sweden, every season is the season of the dethroned champion, but AIK Stockholm’s fall from grace has been emphatic even by Allsvenskan standards. The latest setback for the reigning champions came courtesy of IFK Göteborg, with unrealistically Scandinavian-looking teenager Niklas Bärkroth scoring the goal that condemned the Stockholm side to a 2-1 defeat. AIK currently occupy the relegation play-off spot, but their salvation could be the equally poor form of the teams below them. Second-bottom Gefle certainly showed no signs of a revival, looking devoid of inspiration in an insipid 2-0 defeat to Häcken.
After their defeat offered the second-placed a chance to top the table, Helsingborg will have been hoping that team would be one less ruthless than Malmö. The Sky Blues have been waiting patiently for Helsingborg to slip up, and did not pass up the opportunity when it arrived. A draw would have been enough for the eighteen-time champions, but they finally found a way past impressive Elfsborg goalkeeper Ante Čović to seal a 1-0 win and complete their ominous ascent to the league’s summit.
Charlie will be writing regularly for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him please visit The Carvalho Peninsula.