Djurgårdens IF have the chance to end Juventus FC's hopes of a place in the UEFA Champions League.
By Jan Juhlin and Pete Sanderson
A year ago life was going swimmingly for Djurgårdens IF. Not only were they on target to land their second consecutive Swedish title, they had two of their country's best respected trainers.
Led by enigmatic coaching duo Sören Åkeby and Zoran Lukic, the Stockholm-based side played out the season in style, becoming national champions. With a host of clubs eyeing up the talented pair, however, it seemed inevitable that their successful partnership would end, and when Åkeby was offered the chance to go solo with Danish outfit AGF Århus, he elected to move on.
Lukic brought in assistant coach Stefan Rehn to replace Åkeby, but poor results and a sudden change of heart led to the former ending his six-year spell at the club in July. Djurgården duly appointed Kjell Jonevret to revive the team's fortunes but, even with the injection of fresh ideas, they have so far failed to find their form in the Allsvenskan.
The one bright spark has been Djurgården's European adventures. A 2-0 aggregate win against Lithuania's FBK Kaunas earned a dream match against Juventus FC and they were soon giving the Old Lady the fright of her life, taking a 2-0 lead in Turin in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first-leg tie.
The game eventually finished 2-2, with David Trezeguet and Emerson rescuing the two-times European champions. But with the home leg still to come tonight, Djurgården believe victory, and a lucrative place in the group stage, is well within reach. "It was great to unsettle one of Europe's biggest clubs," said Jonevret. "We'll do our utmost to create a huge shock in the return. It will be tough, but we have some good players who will do their best to beat Juventus."
Jonevret, however, remains unsure as to why his players have performed so well in Europe yet have struggled domestically. They have already missed out in the race for the Swedish title, falling 12 points behind leaders Halmstads BK and lying a disappointing seventh with 17 rounds played.
"Perhaps my players wanted to make up for the fact they have failed to defend their title," said the coach. The failure to replace star player Kim Källström, who left for Stade Rennais FC last January, is another reason Djurgården have strugged to retain their crown.
Källström's passing and vision were an integral part of Djurgården's unique brand of football and successful 4-3-3 system; not even the arrivals of Tobias Hysén and Abgar Barsom have compensated for his loss.
Yet the display against Juventus has breathed new life into Jonevret's team. They did not allow themselves to be unsettled by the departure of Dutch striker Geert den Ouden just before the game in Turin. And with Sweden a notoriously difficult place to get a result, Juventus will have their work cut out if they want to deny Djurgården a place in the group stage of Europe's premier competition.