Once more unto the breach …
AIK head coach Alex Miller and star striker Antonio Flavio seem to have a difference of opinion about why the Brazilian didn’t play in the Gnaget’s 1-0 home loss to Norwegian side Rosenborg on July 27. Flavio told Web site fotbolldirekt he didn’t play because Miller didn’t put him in the lineup. Miller, however, said Flavio missed the match because of an injury. The Brazilian denied having an injury, saying he was 100-percent fit. Miller, who took over as manager in July, said Flavio, “hasn’t been training and is hurt. If he says he isn’t hurt, he’s lying.”
AIK brought in Miller, a veteran coach from Scotland, to restore discipline and rebuild the team. However, since the Scot’s arrival, turmoil has dominated at the club as AIK sold off or released eight players and brought in six new faces and Miller put his stamp on the team. One of the biggest names to sign, Sierra Leone international Mohamed Bagura, also missed the Rosenborg match with an injury, although his was apparently legitimate. AIK expects Bagura to be ready for the return match in Trondheim Aug. 4.
As for Miller and Flavio, no one expects the manager and star player to have dinner together any time soon.
All four Swedish teams playing in UEFA competitions actually have a shot at advancing to the group stage. Three teams are in the UEFA Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup. Elfsborg, currently fifth in the Allsvenskan, has the best chance at moving forward after it pasted Macedonian side Teteks 5-0 July 28 in Borås. Elfsborg travels to Skopje, Macedonia Aug. 5 for the return leg. Kalmar is next in line after playing to a 1-1 draw with Bulgarian side Levski July 29 at Gamla Ullevi Stadium. A win outright or a draw in which Kalmar scores at least twice would send the 2008 champions into the group round. IFK Göteborg, the third Swedish club, has a slightly more difficult road after it lost 2-0 July 29 to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. The two meet Aug. 5 in Göteborg, where the Blåvitt need a 3-0 win to advance on aggregate.
AIK, Sweden’s lone entrant in the UEFA Champions League, also faces an away deficit after losing 1-0 to Rosenborg at Råsunda Stadium. AIK travels to Trondheim Aug. 4 for the return and must win by two goals to advance.
Astrit Ajdarevic might just be the next big star of Swedish football, at least if the Swedish media have anything to do with it. The 20-year-old joined Örebro from Liverpool in July and in 38 minutes of play in the Allsvenskan, he has scored three goals. OSK head coach Sixten Boström said he plans to ignore calls from the Swedish media to play the youngster in every minute, saying he prefers to develop the naturalized Swede from Kosovo slowly. The Swedish media rave about Ajdarevic’s talent and claim he could lead Örebro to an Allsvenskan title. Boström said he agrees, but also doesn’t plan to mortgage the team’s future by running his young star into the ground.
100 million reasons to win
When Elfsborg toppled Macedonian side Tekets in the UEFA Europa League, it wasn’t just any win. The lopsided victory put the Boras side within inches of reaching the group stage of the European-wide tournament and that means money. Lots and lots of money. Elfsborg general manager Stefan Andreasson, in an interview with Fotbolldirekt.se, said he believes Elfsborg could net more than 100 million kronor from group play. The bulk of the cash would come from UEFA, which hands out prize money simply for reaching the group stage. Victories and draws are also worth a few kronor, while Andreasson said still more money would come from new sponsors and TV coverage of the matches.
Unhappy in Helsingborg
HIF midfielder Rene Makondele knows what it’s like to win the Allsvenskan. He did it twice with Djurgården and that experience was one of the reasons why Helsingborg manager Jan Jansson wanted to sign the Congo midfielder. Now, HIF is in first place and Makondele appears set to grab its second league title in five years, but the midfielder isn’t happy. His form slipped at the start season and he now sits on the bench more than he runs on the pitch. He also apparently doesn’t like living in Helsingborg and has made no secret of his wish to return to Stockholm. Makondele is about the only player not happy at the presumptive champions, but Helsingborg seemingly has no intention of sending its unhappy star to any team in Stockholm. Instead, the club is holding talks with BK Häcken to ship the African off to Göteborg.
Kalmar manager Nanne Bergstrand is definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy. Despite only winning four games in the first half, Bergstrand said he believes his side is just as good as the team that won the 2008 Allsvenskan. Kalmar is currently in sixth place, 16 points behind Helsingborg but is in the semifinals of the Swedish Cup. Kalmar is also in position to advance in the UEFA Europa League. Still, Bergstrand raised more than a few eyebrows when he compared his current collection of Swedes and Brazilians to the group that won in 2008. However, the veteran manager shrugged any suggestion he was simply trying to bolster his players’ confidence. “Psychology is among the funniest and most interesting parts of this job,” he said. I have trained and trained for a long time, but it is important to realize that you are constantly learning new things.” Maybe one of Bergstrand’s newest tricks will equal a ticket to Europe.
Helsingborg, Kalmar and Mjällby all advanced to the semifinals of the 2010 Swedish Cup, where they will join Superettan side Hammarby. Helsingborg and Mjällby lock horns in one semifinal while Kalmar meets Hammarby in the other. Both games are set for Oct. 28, with the final on Nov. 14. Helsingborg is in line to win the Swedish double as it also leads the Allsvenskan. Mjällby is currently in a surprising fourth place after moving up to the premier division from the Superettan. Kalmar is in sixth place. Hammarby advanced to the Cup semis with a dramatic 7-6 penalty kick shoot out win over Allsvenskan side Brommapojkarna. Kalmar defeated AIK 5-4 in overtime to advance while Mjällby knocked off Örebro 3-0 in its quarterfinal.
Ante’s last laugh
Just six weeks ago, Elfsborg goalkeeper Ante Covic was packing his bags and getting ready to head back to Australia. Covic was on the outs with head coach Magnus Haglund, who benched the Aussie international for seven games after Covic got a red card in a match in April against IFK Göteborg. During the World Cup break, Elfsborg signed Danish international net minder Jesper Christensen and it looked as though Covic was through in Borås. Then Christensen went down with an injury and youngster Joakim Wulff, who supplanted Covic in April, suffered a drop in form. When the second half started July 17, Covic was once more between the pipes for Elfsborg. Prior to the match, the club had little to say about its man from Down Under. Lately, however, the press releases on the Elfsborg Web site have gushed with positive vibes for the Aussie. Funny how things change.