The new-look Swedish Cup provided more than its share of surprises as the group stage came to end March 16-17.
First Division Sirius IK came literally from nowhere to claim the top spot in Group 1 and send defending league champions Elfsborg packing from the tournament after it scored a 7-1 road over Ljungskile. Elfsborg defeated fellow Allsvenskan side GAIS 3-1 to seemingly advance to the quarterfinals. However, Sirius kept on scoring and its result gave it six points from three matches and a 9-4 goals scored-goals allowed. Elfsborg finished with an identical mark. Sirius advanced thanks to scoring more road goals than Elfsborg.
Elfsborg went into its match March 17 against GAIS needing a win over the Göteborg side to advance to the quarterfinals while all GAIS needed was a draw. Sirius was not even part of the title equation even it went into its match with Ljungskile with three points, just like Elfsborg.
The first half of the Elfsborg match ended scoreless, despite the Borås side creating multiple chances. GAIS, clearly playing for the point it needed, packed its defensive third and Elfsborg attacked in waves. The offensive onslaught gained more impetus in the second half as word reached Boras Arena that Sirius had a 4-1 lead at the break.
Ljungskile actually held a short-lived lead as James Sinclair put the Superettan side in front after five minutes at the Marksbygg Arena in Ljungskile. Ante Björkebaum tied the match in the 30th minute with the first of his four goals in the match. He put Sirius in front with this second of the game in the 36th minute. Christer Gustafsson, who had three goals in the game, scored two of them in a one-minute span in the 44th and 45th minutes to give Sirius its 4-1 half-time lead.
The results in Ljungskile put even more pressure on Elfsborg to get a result against GAIS. Markus Rhoden finally put Elfsborg on the scoreboard when he scored off a pass from Simon Hedlund at the 68 minute mark. Joel Johansson tied the match for GAIS a minute later but the home side simply put too much pressure on the visitors. Anton Lans put Elfsborg back in front at the 71-minute mark and Lasse Nilsson made the score 3-1 when he tallied off a penalty in the 77th minute. GAIS defender Calum Angus mauled Nilsson inside the penalty box and received a red card, giving Elfsborg a man advantage for 13 minutes. The Boras side fired nine shots on goal in that span, hitting the post twice while forcing GAIS net minder Tommy Vaiho to make three spectacular saves.
Meanwhile, Sirius continued its assault on Ljungskile. Björkebaum scored his third of the match in the 68th minute to put the D-1 side in front 5-1. Gustafsson’s third of the game made the score 6-1 in the 81st minute. As Elfsborg continued to misfire in its search for a fourth goal, Björkebaum sealed Sirius’ path the quarters when he struck for his fourth and final goal just two minutes from time.
The Group 1 result was the biggest shock to come out of the group stage. Group 2, by comparison, was almost dull as Superettan side Falkenberg breezed into the quarterfinals with a perfect 3-0 record after beating IFK Varnamo 4-1. Stefan Rodevåg had a brace of goals for Falkenberg, which earlier defeated BK Häcken and Örebro.
Group 3 also came down to goal difference as Allsvenskan newcomers Östers pipped title-favorite Malmö FF to advance to the quarterfinals. Both teams won their final matches – with Malmö defeating Sundsvall 4-1 while Östers beat IK Frej Taby 5-0. Erik Johansson scored twice for Malmo while Johan Persson had two for Östers. Kevin Walker kept Malmo from advancing when he scored for Sundsvall. The tally gave Östers a one-goal edge in goal difference and it advanced over Malmö.
Örgryte won Group 4 despite losing its final match to runners-up Halmstad 2-1 at Skedala Park in Halmstad. The Goteborg side only had to keep its goal difference superior as it won its first two matches in the group. Jakob Johansson put Örgryte off a penalty kick in the 34th minute. Halmstad rallied in the second half as Richard Magyar and Antonio Rojas scored put HBK in front. The two goals, however, were not enough to overtake Örgryte on goal difference.
IFK Norrköping finished on top of Group Five with a 2-1-0 record after defeating Mjällby 2-0. Luxembourg international Lars Christian Krogh Gerson put Peking up 1-0 in the ninth minute. Christopher Telo doubled the score at the 70-minute march. Gerson made a name for himself in the group stage, earning the title as the player to watch this season in the Allsvenskan.
Group 6 offered few surprises as Helsinborg finished atop the standings with a 2-1-0 record after beating Gefle 3-1 at Olympia Stadion. David Accam scored twice to lead HIF to the win. Accam put Helsingborg on top after 18 minutes. Mikael Dahlberg tied the game at the 48-minute mark. Alvaro Santos put Helsingborg back in front in the 60th minute while Accam made the score 3-1in the 90th minute with his second goal of the game.
Kalmar did its best to steal Group 7 from Göteborg, defeating the Blåvitt 1-0 at Valhalla Park in Göteborg. The result, however, wasn’t enough for Kalmar to upend Göteborg from the top spot as the Blåvitt advanced on goal difference. Romario Pereira Sipiao tallied the goal in the match when he scored in the 68th minute.
Djurgården sailed through Group 8, advancing the quarterfinals after a 1-1 draw at Kopparvallen with Åtvidaberg. DIF won the group with seven points. Victor Prodell put ÅFF on top in the 20th minute. Nahir Oyal tied the match for Djurgården at the 52-minute mark.
The quarterfinals open April 3 and are a two-leg, home-and-home series. The marquee matchup pits Helsingborg against Goteborg while Falkenberg faces Örgryte in an all-Superettan series; Norrköping takes on Djurgården and Sirius plays Östers.
by Chipp Reid