Lots of huffing, puffing and sweating and now just about to get to that critical moment. Not Wayne Rooney, but top flight football in Europe's more Northerly outposts. With a round up from Scandinavia , IBWM's Charlie Anderson.
So it’s September, and following that pesky international break, most of Europe is gearing up for another exhausting nine months of non-stop football. After the silliness of August, the equilibrium has been restored – Alan Pardew is out of work, Harry Redknapp is employing a stable of creative midfielders (and Jermaine Jenas) and expectations of the England team have once again been raised to bullishly unfeasible. All is well. The proper season is underway, and everyone is ready to knuckle down and find out if their team is actually going to be good at football this time.
Well, not everyone. While the teams of Europe’s big leagues are still finding their coat-pegs and exchanging summer-holiday stories, the Scandinavians are about to sit their end of year exams. In this part of the world, the football season runs from spring to winter, with the traditional break every other summer to watch Sweden get knocked out in the group stage. Over the next couple of months, while José Mourinho complains about the fixture list and Robin van Persie misses six weeks with a stubbed toe, all over Scandinavia the football season reaches its climax.
Except, that is, for Denmark. While its cousins sit contentedly in the playground making daisy chains and blowing snot bubbles, the Danish league sips alcopops and splutters on cigarette smoke in a forlorn attempt to fit in with the cool kids. The Superliga runs on more or less the same calendar as the western European leagues and, eight games in, the league table is only just starting to take shape.
It is a familiar shape, however, with champions Copenhagen four points clear at the top despite suffering an almighty panic against bottom club Silkeborg. The underdogs were 2-0 up in Parken Stadium when their hosts remembered how to play football for precisely three minutes, scoring two goals before sinking back into obscurity and having to settle for a draw. The champions were let off the hook this time – Midtjylland and Odense both dropped points – but Brøndby’s 3-1 win over SønderjyskE makes them well placed to exploit any future slip-ups.
At the sticky end of the table, Aalborg showed that while they may not be great going forward, they can't defend either – a home defeat to Horsens leaves the 2008 champions second-bottom with just six points to show from their eight matches. Only one point above them lie Esbjerg - they were given a thorough schooling by Kim Aabech and Patrick Mortensen, who guided Lyngby to a win more comfortable than the 3-2 scoreline suggests.
Before the international week, the Allsvenskan title race finally burst open like a teenager’s zit, splattering the bathroom mirror of Swedish football with pungent, gooey intrigue. Helsingborg’s stately procession to a first title since 1999 was thrown into doubt by Malmö, who took over as league leaders. This week they made a respectable attempt at premature capitulation, however, turning a 2-0 lead at lowly Åtvidaberg into a 3-2 deficit before eventually snatching a late equaliser. Helsingborg beat equally lowly Gefle, meaning that Malmö are still top but now only on goal difference. As if that wasn’t exhilarating enough, Malmö host Helsingborg in midweek.
In the race for the Europa League (every bit as exciting in Sweden as elsewhere), Örebro manfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, losing 2-1 at Djurgården. Elfsborg’s win over Mjällby now lifts them to within a point of Örebro in third place.
Of course, no round up of the Swedish league would be complete without an update on AIK’s utterly, utterly miserable season. In this week’s instalment, some creative defending helped Trelleborg to a 4-1 win over the Stockholm side, who at this stage are the reigning champions in name only.
Things change quickly in Scandinavia. In the last round of matches Daniel Örlund produced a brilliant save from Christian Bolaños’ free kick to help Rosenborg to a 3-2 win at IK Start, preserving the champions’ nine-point lead at the top. This week, Bolaños is an FC Copenhagen player, and Örlund has become the villain of the piece. The Swedish keeper fumbled Birkir Bjarnason’s header into the net to cancel out Michael Jamtfall’s opener and gift Viking a point.
It takes two to compete for a title, however, and the onus thus fell on Vålerenga to make things interesting. Top-scorer Mohammed Abdellaoue left Oslo for Hannover in the summer, but Vålerenga seem to have found a solution – his younger brother Mostafa scored a vital goal against Stabæk as VIF closed the gap on Rosenborg to a piffling seven points.
Tromsø still look odds-on to bring the Europa League to the Arctic Circle next season despite their surprising 3-0 loss at home to Brann – Tromsø’s nearest rivals Strømsgodset also lost. Down in the Tippeligaen basement, bottom club Sandefjord were beaten by second-bottom Kongsvinger. This practically seals Sandefjord’s fate but Kongsvinger are also literally in the brown stuff, as Jamie Redknapp might say. Indeed, given his erudite comments following Tom Henning Øvrebø’s refereeing performance at Stamford Bridge in 2009, it can only be assumed that Redknapp is an ardent scholar of Norwegian football.
With title races exploding into life (well, sort of) all over Scandinavia, the role of party pooper fell to Finland. Leaders HJK Helsinki lost, giving Honka the chance to get within four points of the runaway leaders. It started well enough for Honka as they took the lead in what should have been a routine home win against mid-table Oulu. They then managed, however, to concede four goals to the same player – Canadian striker Frank Jonke – before scoring twice late on to make the scoreline look faintly respectable. In the same way as half-heartedly brushing vomit from your shirt before arriving at the White House garden party looks respectable. So the gap stays at seven points and, with just five games left to play, it looks to be HJK’s title for the second year running.
A few weeks ago, Valur versus Stjarnan – 6th versus 7th in Iceland - would have been as anonymous as a fixture outside of Stoke can conceivably be. However, Stjarnan’s extravagant goal celebrations over the past few weeks have earned the admiration of both football fans and YouTube connoisseurs (and if you made a Venn diagram of those two, the overlap would be labelled “Zlatan Ibrahimović apologists”). So when Halldór Björnsson buried a penalty for the visitors before calmly trotting back to his own half for the restart, it lent a somewhat anticlimactic air to this mid-table clash in the Icelandic league. That Stjarnan were 3-0 down prior to the penalty may have had something to do with it. As might the Valur players, after their third goal, performing a mocking version of the ‘fish’ celebration that started the whole bizarre phenomenon back in July.
Alternatively, maybe he simply knew that Stjarnan’s moment in the sun, enjoyable though it undoubtedly was, had to end. This is, after all, Scandinavia – where even footballers can show restraint.
And yes, there is a video on YouTube of Björnsson not celebrating.
Charlie writes regularly for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him please visit The Carvalho Peninsula.