Swedish clubs are queueing up for UEFA Cup success this season, with no fewer than five of them in action on Thursday as 66 sides target group stage berths.
Swedish clubs are queuing up for UEFA Cup success this season with no fewer than five of them having earned a place in first round games this week.
AIK Solna, Hammarby, Helsingborgs IF and BK Häcken have all battled their way through to the first round where they have been joined by champions IF Elfsborg, who parachuted into the competition after losing their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie. For all concerned, a place in the group stage would represent a massive achievement.
'Spirits are high'
AIK coach Rickard Norling is feeling positive as his side travel to face Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC, saying: "It's going to be tough, but we're in good form, spirits are high and we see this as a very good experience." Hammarby coach Tony Gustafsson, meanwhile, is glad to see the Allsvenskan sides riding their luck. "In previous years Swedish teams have been unlucky as well as perhaps not focused enough," he said. "Overall Swedish sides have become more aware of what it takes and have acknowledged that there are no easy games in Europe."
Having lost out to Valencia CF in the third qualifying round, Elfsborg are only too aware of that, but the 5-1 aggregate defeat has not shattered their European dreams completely. "Swedish clubs can never compete financially with teams from the bigger leagues, but that doesn't mean we have no chance of qualifying," said coach Magnus Haglund. "Losing to Valencia was not what we hoped for but that is behind us now. We now have [FC Dinamo 1948] Bucureşti who are a good side, but we believe in ourselves."
Little was expected of Häcken who qualified for the competition through the Fair Play system despite being relegated from the Allsvenskan last season, but having got this far, coach Sonny Karlsson is determined that his side will enjoy their tie against FC Spartak Moskva. "We know that we are probably considered underdogs against any team and that suits us just fine," he said. "No one expects us to go through so there's no pressure on us to actually go through, but you never know in football."
For Helsingborg, meanwhile, UEFA Cup success represents a great opportunity to bring some glory to an indifferent season which has seen them slip to ninth in the 14-team table. "Things haven't gone well in the league and being out of real contention for the title this early is a disappointment," said coach Stuart Baxter. "The UEFA Cup gives us a chance to show what we're capable of and hopefully we'll be able to do well against SC Heerenveen."