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Friday, 19 August 2011

Europe: It's all hotting up in the north

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Although the Danish season runs through the winter and only five games have been played so far we are rapidly approaching the pointy end of the season in Norway and Sweden. The identities of contenders for titles and relegation are becoming clearer and the cup competitions are now down to the semi-final stages.

This week also saw the first legs of the final round of Euro-qualifiers with several Scandinavian clubs still involved. Denmark's two competitors in the Champions League had mixed results. Scandinavia's biggest club FC Copenhagen had a poor result at home against unfancied Czechs Viktoria Plzen going down 3-1 in the Parken Stadion while Odense had a great victory over Spain's Villarreal with a late Andreasen goal making the difference.

Sweden's Malmø - conquerors of Rangers in the third qualifying round - suffered a heavy defeat 4-1 away to Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia despite scoring a 17th minute equaliser. A half-time score of 1-1 would have been superb after 90 minutes, but three second half goals have all but put them out.

In the Europa League there are still four clubs involved with Aalesund and Rosenborg from Norway, Nordsjælland from Denmark and Swedish side Helsingborgs flying the various flags.  Aalesund got things off to a good start when AZ Alkmaar defender Moisander gave away a 12th minute penalty ably converted by Michael Barrantes. The Dutch side hit back on 29 minutes when Martens pounced on a poor parry by the keeper to head home from eight yards. The decisive goal arrived in the 74th minute when great work down the right by Jaager saw him fire in a cross and Barrantes scored his second.

Norway's other representatives Rosenborg will be disappointed with a scoreless draw at home to AEK Larnaca of Cyprus. A game in which both sides had a few chances petered out to a tame end with the home team seemingly content not to lose a goal at home.

Likewise Nordsjælland's game ended 0-0 but this can at least be seen as a moral victory for the small Danish club against the Poruguese giants Sporting Club.

Helsingborgs probably won't be too disappointed with a 1-0 loss away to Standard Liege and the Swedes will be quietly confident of overturning the deficit at home against the Belgian side.

Domestically things have both a familiar and unfamiliar look about them in the Danish SAS-ligaen. Somewhat predictably FC Copenhagen are top of the pile with 13 points from their five games so far, the only blip being a draw at home to Odense (2-2). Last weekend saw them gain a 2-0 victory over FC Midtjylland. Less easy to predict has been the poor form of Brøndby, the main rivals to Copenhagen with whom they contest the 'New Firm' games in Denmark. Although it's very early days yet they currently languish in tenth position in the 12 team league having mustered only one win and five points thus far including a 4-1 home defeat by lowly AC Horsens. Things can only get better . . .

Further north things are getting a bit more serious now. As mentioned we are at the semi-final stage of the cups in both Sweden and Norway. In the NM Cupen last weekend the quarter finals were played with the pick of the ties being Viking versus Brann. An intriguing but not classic match was locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes and no further goals in extra time meant a penalty shoot-out. Both scored their first spot-kicks, but two consecutive misses by Viking gave the tie to Brann 3-1. The other games saw Fredrikstad overcome league leaders Molde 3-2 after extra time in an entertaining match while Start Kristiansand ousted first division Alta 1-0. The final game saw Aalesund run out 3-1 winners over reigning champions Rosenborg who are not having a good season much to the delight of all Norwegians who don't support them.

In the league Molde, now managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, are top although they lost their last league game to Rosenborg 3-1 leaving them five points clear of Brann with everyone down to sixth placed Strømsgodset still in with a shout of the title.

Sweden looks slightly more clear cut at the moment with Helsingborgs three points ahead of Elfsborg, who in turn are seven clear of AIK Solna. Helsingborg are also still in the Swedish Cup although their delayed quarter-final versus Elfsborg has yet to be played. The three teams through to the semi-finals to be played next month are Ørebro SK, who have just lost midfielder Alejandro Bedoya to Rangers, and who will play the winner of Helsingborgs/Elfsborg. IFK Gothenburg versus Kalmar will be the other semi, played on September 14.

So things up here in drunken elk and troll-land are bubbling along quite nicely but mention must be made of Finnish club HJK Helsinki. Although not technically in Scandinavia and largely ignored by the rest of the Nordic world due to their incomprehensible language it would be remiss of me not to highlight their magnificent result in the Europa League on Thursday when they downed last season's Champions League semi-finalists Schalke 04 2-0. A great result by any standards, with a goal in either half from Pukki securing a famous result so well done to them. It's not all about ski-jumping up here you know.

Article by Iain Macfadzean


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Will there be any shocks in Europe this season?

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