Malmö FF head coach Age Hareide set a fairly lofty goal for his side at the start of group play in the 2014-2015 UEFA Champions League: third place in the group and a spot in the Round of 32 in the Europa League. It seemed like an impossible task for the Swedish champions as they found themselves in a group with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Italian champions Juventus aand Greek champions Olympiakos. Despite a tough 2-0 loss to Juventus November 26 at Swedbank Arena in Malmö, the Swedish champions’ dream remains quite alive.
The Skyblues travel to Piraeus on December 9 to take on Olympiakos with third place at stake in their group. Malmö beat Olympiakos 2-0 at Swedbank Arena in October and a win in Greece would keep the Swedes’ European adventure alive. The third place teams from each group in the Champions League enter the UEFA Europa League in the Round of 32 stage. Hareide said even losses such as that on November 26 were good for his players.
“Every game we play against these teams we learn much,” he said. “We need to take this with us for next year's qualifiers.”
Malmö could well look at the Juventus match as a game it let slip away. Although they didn’t play as technically sound as the Italians, the Swedes gave their guests everything they could handle in the opening 45 minutes. Isaac Kiese Thelin had two half-chances within the first ten minutes, the second of which came about as left defender Ricardinho intercepted a risky Andrea Pirlo ball heading into the forward's path, but Thelin failed to find the target.
Juventus' first and best opportunity also originated from an enterprising full-back. Stephan Lichtsteiner surged down the right and crossed diagonally through the Malmö area. When Enock Adu mis-hit his clearance, Arturo Vidal rifled a powerful shot toward goal but goalkeeper Robin Olsen held on despite having his fingers stung.
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio started getting involved around the half-hour mark and forced another fine save from Olsen after toe-poking a trademark Pirlo center toward goal. Minutes later he connected with more power — this time Vidal provided the delivery — yet Olsen again stood firm, ensuring the teams went into the interval level.
The frenetic first half left Malmö looking somewhat tired at the start of the second half and Juventus quickly broke the deadlock. Three minutes into the second half Marchisio struck a beautiful defense-splitting pass from his own half, setting Llorente free and the Spanish forward made no mistake, keeping his cool to round Olsen before slotting in.
The best Malmö could manage in reply was an Adu strike — powerful but straight into Gianluigi Buffon's safe hands. Substitute Álvaro Morata seemed certain to wrap up the points but rattled the crossbar from under five meters. Carlos Tévez showed the youngster how it was done with two minutes to go, collecting Paul Pogba's pass after the midfielder's surging run and slipping an effort into the corner.
The goal all but crushed Malmö’s spirits, which took a further blow when referee Pedro Porenca handed Erik Johansson a red card for dissent following the Tevez goal. The defender will miss the Olympiakos match with a one-game suspension. Hareide, however, remained upbeat. “Juventus are very good inside the box with their defensive marking,” he said. “That made it hard for us. We were not good enough in the second half but we played well in the first.”
Malmö left for a training camp in Spain immediately after the match, which Hareide said should help the team heading into the match with Olympiakos.
“We get to train on good pitches and hopefully train well and work on our tactics before the game against Olympiakos,” he said. “We have to give it all we've got, but it will be difficult. They are strong at home. They play with confidence at home and that makes them a lot better. If we focus we can play better than we did today.”