IF Elfsborg have not always been at the summit of Swedish football, but a decade of solid growth has brought them to within 90 minutes of a showdown with Valencia CF for a place in the UEFA Champions League.
After beating Debreceni VSC 1-0 in Hungary last week in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie, Elfsborg need only avoid defeat on Wednesday at their Borås Arena to progress. However, coach Magnus Haglund said: "I don't want to talk about Valencia yet. We have a game against Debrecen on Wednesday and hopefully after that we'll be able to focus on Valencia."
Plenty has happened since Haglund – then aged 31 – took over before the 2005 season. Elfsborg, based 70km to the east of Gothenburg, had finished close to the relegation zone the previous campaign, but Haglund – who had been coaching regional league outfit Laholms FK – helped his new team to seventh place (they had been bottom after ten games). It was a promising start at their recently opened 14,500-capacity stadium. The rise continued in 2006 when Elfsborg claimed their first Allsvenskan title in 45 years.
Elfsborg had stood at the top of Swedish football before. Founded in 1904, they blossomed three decades later when, aided by legendary striker Sven Jonasson, they won the league in 1936, 1939 and 1940. Jonasson's retirement in 1946, as the league's all-time leading scorer (a record he still holds), precipitated a decline including relegation eight years later, but in 1960 they were promoted and a season later clinched their fourth title. Yet Elfsborg suffered several more demotions in the years that followed.
This yo-yo existence ended only in 1997, when they boasted the likes of Anders Svensson, Tobias Linderoth and Fredrik Berglund. Even after that trio left, Elfsborg's higher profile attracted more sponsors, especially in the wake of their first Swedish Cup wins in 2001 and 2003. With increased backing they were able to re-sign former heroes Anders and Mathias Svensson in 2005.
Now fielding experienced internationals such as Stefan Ishizaki and Under-21 maestro Samuel Holmén alongside the Svenssons, second-placed Elfsborg are in the running for another championship as well as their best-ever European campaign. "We know what we want and we believe in what we are doing," said director of sport and former player Stefan Andreasson. "We've managed to bring a number of 'true' Elfsborg players back to the club which is important too."
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