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By Marcus Christenson
When Malmö FF reached the 1978/79 European Champion Clubs' Cup final, it was something of a miracle. The team that lost 1-0 against Nottingham Forest FC at the Olympiastadion in Munich were still not fully professional, but the same cannot be said of the Malmö side that will play in this season's UEFA Champions League.
Their star-studded (by Swedish standards) squad earned the nickname 'Real Malmö' as they won their first Swedish title in 16 years in 2004. Now they are hoping that Patrik and Daniel Andersson's experience and the striking prowess of Afonso Alves can bring them European success.
"I am a former player myself and I believe that if you have a team standing in the players' tunnel before a game believing they can win, they have a chance," said Malmö sporting director Hasse Borg. "Even if they are playing [FC] Barcelona or Juventus [FC]. And we have a really good team here now."
Six years ago, Malmö were not in such great shape. Relegated from the Allsvenskan, they could have fallen apart, but took the opportunity to rebuild. "It was horrible, but we needed it," explained Borg. "When we went down we decided this was our wake-up call."
They were promoted back to the top flight at the first attempt in 1999, and in the same year the sale of young Zlatan Ibrahimovic to AFC Ajax for the best part of €8m effectively cancelled their debts. "We would not be where we are without the money from Zlatan," admitted Borg.
That cash injection helped the rebuilding process which ultimately led to the 2004 championship triumph, leaving the club dreaming of being the first Swedish team since Helsingborgs IF in 2000 to reach the Champions League group stage as they take on Maccabi Haifa FC in the second qualifying round.
It is some dream considering the recent form of Swedish sides in Europe's top club tournaments. These days it is hard to believe that Malmö contested the European Cup final or indeed that IFK Göteborg won the UEFA Cup twice in the 1980s. "This is another era," Patrik Andersson said. "Swedish clubs were able to keep their players for longer, to build a team. Now there are a lot of young players stamping their feet impatiently, wanting to get away as soon as possible."
Nevertheless, Andersson - who played for Blackburn Rovers FC, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, FC Bayern München and FC Barcelona after leaving Malmö for the first time in 1992 - remains composed. "I am not complaining," he said. "I knew what I was doing when I moved back to Malmö."
Andersson hopes the club will sign two or three players with international experience to boost their European challenge, but the most important factor could well be coach Tom Prahl, the upset expert who has been handed the task of bringing the glory days back to Malmö.
However, for Borg, mental toughness is just as important. "We need to believe in ourselves," he said. "When the Champions League qualifiers start we will be in the middle of our season while the big teams will hardly have begun theirs. So we definitely have a chance against the big teams."
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in issue 12 of Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Click here to subscribe.
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