Helsingborg is the 2011 Allsvenskan champion even though three rounds remain in the season.
Although three matches remain in the 2011 season, Helsingborg has already cemented itself of the Allsvenskan title, mathematically eliminating both AIK and Elfsborg after beating GAIS 3-1 Sept. 25. At the same time, defending champions Malmö FF scored an injury-time goal to hold second-place AIK to a 1-1 draw.
The combined results gave HIF a 10-point lead over AIK and Elfsborg with three matches left to play. Even if Helsingborg loses its final three games, there is no way for AIK or Elfsborg to catch the new champions.
“We were listening to the radio on the bus on the way back from GAIS,” said Helsingborg manager Conny Karlsson. “At first AIK was leading but then Malmö scored and a party broke out.”
Helsingborg put itself in a position to take the title by riding an 18-game unbeaten streak, a run that came to an end in Round 26 in a 3-2 loss to Elfsborg. The loss came after Helsingborg saw a massive changeover of players as six of its regulars moved to new teams while HIF brought in seven new players. No other team in the Allsvenskan saw as much player turnover as Helsingborg.
Karlsson said the team’s depth was a primary reason for its ability to ride out the changes.
“Of course we already knew before the season that some of our key players would be leaving this summer. So we sat down and discussed what we would do,” Karlsson said. “The players who have come in from the bench delivered, while we have taken new players when any of our players have left and they stepped right in.”
Mix of new and old
It was a mix of new and old players that led HIF to its title-clinching win over GAIS. Newcomer Erlend Hanstveit fired Helsingborg at the 27 minute mark off a pass from longtime HIF midfielder Matthias Lindström.
GAIS tied the match three minutes into the second half when Brazilian Wanderson Do Carmo struck for his 10th goal this season. The score remained level for 20 minutes when Erik Sundin fired HIF back in front off a pass from Joseph Baffo. Rachid Bouaouzan added the third goal three minutes from time.
It was somehow fitting that Sundin scored the game- and title-winning goal. Often relegated to the bench because of former striker Alexander Gerndt and Rasmus Jonsson – both of whom left the team during the August transfer clear out – Sundin openly questioned the heart of some of those departed players.
“This was one of my biggest goals in my career,” Sundin said.
The striker said the win was as much for the fans as it was for the club.
“They are amazing people who come here and support us in this way,” he said. “We have had great support throughout the year by our supporters.”
Strong team spirit
Helsingborg captain and goalkeeper Pär Hansson said team spirit was another reason for the win.
“We are a very strong group mentally,” Hansson said. “Start with (General Manager) Jesper Jansson at the head. He has made sure that we have people who really want to be here. When players have left, new players come in and filled the gaps. It is the result of a strong collective.”
The goalkeeper said HIF began to build its championship mindset in the preseason after defender Erik Edman issued a stinging indictment of the commitment of some the team’s stars in the media.
“In retrospect, it was something that strengthened the team,” he said. “We examine ourselves and realized we might not have been as good as we thought. It helped that we worked harder.”
For rookie Simon Thern, the 19-year-old son of former Swedish international star Jonas Thern, the victory was “a dream come true.”
“It's just amazing. This is the biggest you can do in Sweden, so it's wonderful,” he said. “It is clear that this is a dream come true. That I could win national championships during my first season in the league is just amazing.”
Although mathematically the champions, Helsingborg must wait until the end of the season on Oct. 23 to officially hoist the Lennart Johansson trophy. Helsingborg plays host to AIK in its final match and Thern said the team has two things in mind.
“We want to win that game,” he said, “and we want to have a big party.”
by Chipp Reid