Relegation battlers for most of the seasons since making their debut in the Norwegian Premier Division in 2003, a Norwegian Cup success last term seems to have raised the ambitions of Aalesunds SK.
Having overcome local rivals Molde FK on penalties in last year's cup final, the 'Tangotrøyene' (tangerines) will make their continental debut in the UEFA Europa League this summer, and are already in the hunt for a 2011/12 European place, leading the Norwegian table with 13 points after five games.
Coach Kjetil Rekdal, 41, is in his fourth managerial job after spells with Vålerenga Fotball and K. Lierse SK – the clubs where he spent the bulk of his playing career – and then 1. FC Kaiserslautern. He remains fixed on avoiding relegation, even though results so far are making fans' dreams of a top-half finish seem modest.
"We can talk about finishing in the top half of the table when we have played 20 matches, not four," he said before the weekend's 3-1 home win against Viking FK brought another five-figure crowd to the club's 11,000-capacity home stadium. "I won't discuss it until we have passed the 35-point mark, which should keep us in this league."
With 17 goals in 83 games for Norway as a midfielder and defender, Rekdal initially staked his coaching reputation on making AaFK into a no-nonsense outfit that did not give games away. A more adventurous approach this season has seen them build on that solid base, scoring 12 times in five outings and conceding just four.
"We hope to develop into a side that can go for a win during the later stages of games, and get two more points instead of capturing just one," explained the coach, whose star players are giant striker Tor Hogne Aarøy, Swedish playmaker Johan Arneng and Anders Lindegaard, perhaps the league's top keeper.
Aarøy has already scored six times this season, five in his last three games, but Rekdal warned: "We have been effective in front of goal so far, but we let our opponents have too many chances. We are lucky the sides we have played have not been more effective. We are still yet to play a good game over the whole 90 minutes."
When they do, Rekdal may finally dare to admit that AaFK may be capable of something more than purely staving away from the drop.
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