IF Elfsborg coach Magnus Haglund believes the pressure is all on third qualifying round opponents Valencia CF as his team attempt to become the first Swedish side to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage in seven seasons.
Only three Allsvenskan clubs have each reached the group stage – IFK Göteborg, AIK Solna and Helsingborgs IF – with the latter achieving that feat in 2000/01 but, having watched his side hold out for a goalless second-leg draw at home to Debreceni VSC to complete a 1-0 aggregate win in the second qualifying round, Haglund is optimistic a surprise is on the cards. "I'm very pleased with our display against Debrecen," he said. "We go into the tie against Valencia as clear underdogs, but at the same time they have an enormous pressure to succeed.
'Anything can happen'
"Their whole organisation is built up around the Champions League and failure to reach the group stage would be a catastrophe for them," Haglund added of a Valencia side who reached the final of Europe's premier club competition in 2000 and 2001 and lost out to Chelsea FC in the quarter-finals last season. With the first leg in Spain and the second to be played on artificial turf at the Borås Arena, the Elfsborg coach recognises the need to keep the tie alive for the return in southern Sweden, explaining: "The pressure Valencia are feeling is our chance. If we can play well and keep them at bay at Mestalla anything can happen. They won't be used to playing on artificial grass either so there's another advantage."
Haglund's players are similarly optimistic, with midfielder Anders Svensson describing the tie against Valencia as "the biggest game in the history of the club. For me it's probably the biggest game ever at club level." Goalkeeper Johan Wiland, meanwhile, is drawing inspiration from events in the 2004/05 third qualifying round, saying: "I know Swedish teams haven't done well recently but if Djurgården can draw 2-2 with Juventus then of course we can do something similar." Wiland and his team-mates will find out in due course, with the tie to be played next Wednesday and 29 August.
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