There might be a bit of Col. Hannibal Smith in Malmö sports director Pär Ågren because just like the fabled leader of the A-Team, Ågren “loves it when a plan comes together.”
Malmö’s plans for Europe came together Aug. 3 when it knocked Glasgow Rangers out of the UEFA Champions League with a 1-1 draw at Swedbank Arena in the second leg of their third-round qualifying series tie.
Playing in front of 19,000 well-behaved fans, Malmö advanced the play-off round after taking a 2-1 aggregate victory over the Scottish champions. The players were actually worse-behaved than the Swedbank Arena crowd, which twice this season has forced a halt to Allsvenskan matches. Referee Vladislav Bezborodov handed out nine yellow cards and three reds during the match.
Behind the win were five players Ågren made sure Malmö held onto over the winter when European teams went hunting for new talent. Jiload Hamad, Daniel Larsson, Dardan Rexhepi, Wilton Figueiredo and Jimmy Durmaz were all targets of European clubs during the winter transfer season. However, unlike previous Swedish champions that saw massive player turnover going into the next season, Malmö held onto every member of its 2010 championship side.

Success in keeping the team together
“We thought that was very important,” Ågren said. “We saw that one of the reasons why Swedish teams did so poorly in Europe was because they changed their teams from one season to the next. We didn’t. We had a plan to keep our team together, at least through the Champions League qualifiers, and so far it has succeeded.”
Against Glasgow, the Malmö’s young guns were the main stars. The reigning Scottish champions came into the desperate to prove their own history wrong. Rangers had never won a European match on the road after losing the first leg at home. At first, it looked as though the Scots intended to take the match by force.
Glasgow came out intent on physically intimidating the Swedes. They could have opened the scoring just moments into the match when Juan Manuel Ortiz slipped the ball into the path of Nikica Jelavic in front of goal - but Daniel Andersson was alert and hooked the ball to safety.
The Scots’ desperation and physical play quickly turned the football match into a rugby game as scrums broke out several times. The first expulsion came just 19 minutes into the game. Rangers Steven Whittaker got into a tussle with Durmaz. When the two separated, Whittaker petulantly threw the ball at the Malmö defender, who was on the ground, hitting him in the back. Bezborodov instantly showed the Scottish international a straight red card, giving Malmö a man advantage.
At first, it didn’t matter. Rangers, despite being a man down, continued to attack the Swedes. Just five minutes after the Whittaker red card, Glasgow took the lead. U.S. international Maurice Edu, covering at right-back for Whittaker, curled in a diagonal pass to Jelavic, who sent a shot flying past Dusan Melcharek for a 1-0 Rangers lead.
Rangers continued to hold the upper hand throughout the first half, although the hard tackling and fouling continued unabated. Just before the interval, Lee McCulloch clattered Durmaz, who then kicked out at the midfielder. McCulloch received a yellow card but the Malmö player escaped punishment, much to the frustration of the Scottish bench.

Second half: Malmö on the attack
After the half, the Swedes began to give as good as they got. Larsson tested Glasgow goalkeeper Allan McGregor with low, hard shot. The Swedes continued to apply pressure and went up by two men in the 68th minute. Algerian international defender Majiid Bougherra and Rexhepi got into a tussle, and the Algerian elbowed the Malmö midfielder in the head. Referee Bezborodov gave the Rangers centerback a red card and it looked as through Malmö was on the brink of taking over the game.
However, the two-way hard play got the best of Malmö defender Ricardinho. The Brazilian picked up his second yellow card for a hard tackle on Jelavic and Malmö went down to 10 men.
With gobs of extra space, Malmö went on the attack and Hamad sent his teammates into delirium when he struck 10 minutes from the time. Larsson started the play when he chested the ball down and dropped to Hamad, who sent a flying half volley screaming past McGregor.
”They were desperate and needed to win. I had a hunch that they would play dirty,” Hamad said. “Now I can just enjoy. We take any team.”
Malmö boss Rikard Norling had nothing but praise for his team, which has struggled all season.
We won because we have many damn good football players,” Norling said. “Jiloan scored such a fantastic goal.”
Malmö now advances to the playoff round, another home-and-home series. The draw for the round is Aug. 5 and includes 22 seeded teams that did not have to qualify to get into the fourth stage of the tournament. Even if Malmö loses in the round, it’s European journey would continue as the losers of the playoff round go into the UEFA Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup.

by Chipp Reid