Malmo FF looks set to advance in the UEFA Champions League while the four teams in the Europa League face some hurdles.
So far, so good for Malmö, at least as far as the Champions League.
The defending Allsvenskan champions, currently ninth in the league, scored their biggest win of the season July 28 when they beat Scottish titans Glasgow Rangers1-0 at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow in the first leg of a home-and-home third-qualifying round matchup. The rest of the Swedish teams in European play didn’t fare so well as Örebro crashed out of the UEFA Europa League against Sarajevo while Elfsborg, Helsingborg and Häcken all lost in Europea League fixtures.
Sharpness against Glasgow
Malmö showed sharpness in Glasgow that belied its stuttering domestic form. "We got the Rangers where we wanted them," said Daniel Larsson, who scored the lone goal of the match. "We closed down the center of the field and made them put in crosses. Defensively and tactically, it couldn't have gone much better."
The 24-year-old fired the ball in after Wílton Figueiredo dropped the ball to him on 18 minutes, and the visitors might have extended their lead but for some fine stops from Rangers' goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
"The back-heel [from Figueiredo] rolled perfectly for me," said Larsson. "I could just let it rip. Whether it's my most important goal ever remains to be seen; it depends on what happens in the return leg."
Next play August 4
Malmö faces Rangers Aug. 4 at Swedbank Arena, and if history is any teacher, the Swedes have a distinct advantage. In 55 years of UEFA, the Scottish side has never come back from losing a home leg to win a series.
No one at Malmö, however, is celebrating advancing to the knock out stage just yet.
"We can expect them to come at us at home,” Larsson said. “It's probably ten times as important, for financial reasons, for Rangers to go through than it is for us."
Malmö manager Rikard Norling was also under no illusions.
"We have to remind ourselves who we're playing in the return leg," said the 40-year-old. "We played a really good match and I don't think they're particularly happy with theirs. We have to be at our best.”
Malmö advanced to the Glasgow series after knocking off Faroe Islands champion Torshavn in a series that was harder than it should have been.
The Swedish champions cruised to a 2-0 win July 12 at home behind goals from Dardan Rexhepi and Larsson. On July 19, Malmö traveled to the Faroes and was clearly playing for a draw. Torshavn had other ideas and with 20 minutes left to play, Fródi Benjaminsen headed in a goal that cut the overall deficit to 2-1.
The Faroese continued to attack and came close twice in the final 15 minutes to forcing overtime. However, Figueiredo scored on a counterattack one minute into stoppage time to seal the tie for Malmö.
Win or draw and Malmö makes the playoffs
The Swedish champions entered the tournament in the second qualifying round. A win or draw against Glasgow would send Malmö into the playoffs, which is also a home-and-home series. If Malmö advances from the playoffs, it would enter the group stage and would be the first Swedish team to reach those heights since AIK in 1998.
Malmö entered the 2011 season with its eyes firmly fixed on succeeding in Europe. The club worked to keep together the team that won the Lennart Johansson trophy last year, and so far, that tactic has worked, although transfer rumors have several key players, including Larsson, Agon Mehmeti and Figueiredo all leaving the club next month.
Elfsborg, Helsingborg, Häcken
The outlook for Elfsborg, Helsingborg and Häcken is much gloomier.
Elfsborg, after zipping through the first two qualifying rounds, the Borås side met Norwegian team Alesund in Norway. After allowing a goal in the fifth minute, the Swedes battled and finally broke as Alesund scored three times in a 12-minute span to blow the game open. The two sides meet Aug. 4 in Borås with Elfsborg having to score five goals while shutting out Alesund if it is to advance.
Elfsborg beat Lithuanian side Suduva by a 4-1 aggregate score to advance to the third qualifying round. The two sides drew in Lithunania 1-1 while Elfsborg won at home 3-0 on July 21. Elfsborg knocked off FC Fola of Luxembourg by a 5-1 aggregate score in the first round, including a 4-0 win at home in which David Elm scored twice.
Helsingborg has a slightly less insurmountable deficit to cut as it lost in the first leg of the third qualifying round 1-0 to Bnei Tehuda of Israel July 27 in Israel. HIF, as Swedish Cup holders, had a bye into the third round. The two teams meet at Olympia Stadium in Helsingborg Aug. 4
BK Häcken faces a 3-0 hole while it plays Portuguese side Nacional Aug. 4 in the return leg of their third-qualifying round tilt. The Portuguese poured it on the Swedes July 27 in the first match.
Häcken looked strong in the earlier rounds, beating Finnish side Honka by a 3-0 aggregate score. Häcken dispatched Luxembourg club Kaerjeng by a 6-2 aggregate score, including a 5-1 home win.
Örebro, meanwhile, exited the Europa League following a second-round loss to Sarajevo. The Bosnian side held ÖSK scoreless in the Swedes’ home leg and won in Sarajevo 2-0.
by Chipp Reid