Tonight AIK, Sweden’s sole representative in this season’s Champions League, will play Jeunesse d’Esch of Luxembourg. In case you missed it, the two sides played in Stockholm last week, with AIK managing a 1-0 win, the sole goal coming from a defensive mistake. There is every chance AIK will loose this tie, which will surely mark a new low in Swedish football. It is for this reason why I think it is a good time to look back to the good old days when Swedish teams regularly punched above their weight. Obviously the highlights for Sweden have been Malmö playing in the 1979 European Cup final, and IFK Göteborg winning the UEFA Cup in 1982 and 1987. But seeing as both campaigns are already well documented, I just want to highlight some other noble performances outside of trophy winning seasons. Below are five big games when a Swedish club competed against the best of them.
Chelsea 1-1 Atvidaberg (Atvidaberg win on away goals), Stamford Bridge, Cup Winners’ Cup 1971.
The Guardian recently placed this tie amongst the top six biggest upsets in European club football history. Chelsea were the reigning champions having lifted the Cup Winner’s Cup the previous season. Åtvidaberg were a bunch of part-timers from some tiny Swedish town no one had ever heard off, and brushing them aside should have been a formality for Chelsea in their quest to retain the cup.
In the first leg Atvidaberg managed to hang onto a 0-0 draw at home, thanks to a solid organised backline, and by using similar tactics they managed to maintain a clean sheet for the first half at Stamford Bridge too. Soon after half-time Chelsea finally broke through Åtvidaberg’s determined defence and scored. Yet their failure to convert possession into goals over two ties meant that when Åtvidaberg managed to take their one and only chance to score in the 68th minute, they had beaten Chelsea on away goals.
IFK Göteborg 2-1 Barcelona. September 1994, IFK Göteborg 3-1 Manchester United, November 1994. Both Champions League Group Stage.
Every major tournament has a “Group of Death”, and in the 1994 Champions League that group was IFK Göteborg’s Group A. With Barcelona, Manchester United and Galatasaray, most Blåvit fans would have been happy with a couple of respectable draws and hopefully avoid coming last, and predictably enough their campaign started with a 4-2 lose at Old Trafford. Yet IFK not only went on to avoid coming last but even topped the group. A fortnight later they beat Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona 2-1 at Ullevi, and then followed it up with two 1-0 wins over Galatasary. Next was Manchester United, who arrived in Gothenburg knowing that they couldn’t afford to lose if they wanted to qualify for the quarterfinals. Yet IFK rose to the occasion winning 3-1, and then went on to hold out for a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou to finish top of their group.
In the quarterfinals IFK lost to Bayern Munich on away goals, but it was still a remarkable season in Europe, and IFK fans still don’t tire of reminding you that they beat Barcelona and Manchester United in the same season. Jesper Blomqvist, one of IFK’s star players, would later be signed by Sir Alex Ferguson and was part of his treble winning team in 1999.
Helsingborg 1-0, 0-0 Internazionale, August 2000, Champions League qualifying.
In 1999, Helsingborg won their first title in 57 years, and thus qualified for Europe’s premier club competition. After dispensing with BATE of Belarus with relative ease, HIF were drawn against Inter Milan and it was generally assumed their run in Europe was about to come to a swift end.
Yet Helsingborg did what Swedish clubs seem to do best: dig in and ride their luck. Despite dominating possession and creating all the chances, Inter couldn’t break Helsingborg and their first leg at Olympia looked destined to be a scoreless draw. Yet in the 82nd minute, the Inter backline were completely caught off guard by a high awkward cross (which appears to be miskicked) that Mikael Hansson managed to finish brilliantly to sneak in a 1-0 win.
In the second leg at San Siro, Inter again created all the chances yet even when open goalmouths beckoned, they couldn’t score a goal. Inter’s Alvaro Recoba was awarded a last-minute penalty, which would have taken the tie into extra time. But a brilliant save from goalkeeper Sven Andersson denied them, who dived and clipped the ball as if he had physic powers telling him the exact spot the ball was heading too.
Inter manager Marcello Lippi was sacked shortly afterwards, while Andersson went on to become a Helsingborg legend. Today he is a goal keeping coach at the club.
In the Group Stages Helsingborg didn’t quite meet up to the standards set by IFK in 1994/95, but they did manage a respectable five points against Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Rosenborg. They finished last, but as the club like to point out on their website in their attempts to maintain a positive spin, they did take at least point from each of their opponents.
Trelleborg 3-2 Blackburn Rovers. UEFA Cup, 1994.
In 1994, Blackburn weren’t the relegation battlers they are today. Jack Walker had just bought the club and was spending millions building them into a premiership contender. Ewood Park had been renovated, Kenny Dalglish was appointed manager, and record transfer fees were being paid to sign the likes of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton.
Having finished second the previous season, Blackburn had qualified for Europe for the first time. Trelleborg had also qualified for the first time, and both clubs would later look back at the mid 90s as their heyday. But that’s were the similarities end. While over Jack Walker had spent over £30 million on his Rovers, Trelleborg cost about £300,000.
But in a classic example of functionality triumphing over flair, a sold and well-organised Trelleborg completely nullified the threat of Shearer and frustrated the Blackburn attack. In the 71st minute Fredrik Sandell scored the game’s only goal, leading to a 1-0 win. “It is the biggest moment of my career – the biggest of all our careers,” claimed Trelleborg manager Tom Prahl at the time. “A 2-0 defeat would have satisfied us. To win 1-0 is unbelievable,”
In the second leg Trelleborg held on for a 2-2 draw, and went on to lose to Lazio in the next round. Having been relieved of the “distraction” of European football, Blackburn went on to win the English Premiership in 1995.
Åtvidaberg 3-1 Bayern Munich, European Cup, 1973.
In 1973 Bayern Munich was on the rise to being one the greatest teams in the world. With a squad boasting the talents of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and Gerd Muller, they had just won two Bundesliga titles, and their first obstacle in their quest for European dominance was Sweden’s Åtvidaberg FF.
Despite knocking Chelsea out of the Cup Winners’ Cup two years earlier, no one really expected lighting to strike twice, especially after Bayern dispensed with the part-timers 3-1 in the first leg.
But when Åtvidaberg hosted Bayern at home in the second leg, they had nothing to lose and played accordingly. Conny Torstensson scored twice as he and his teammates completely outplayed their German opponents. By the 75th minute Åtvidaberg were up 3-0 and on the cusp of the greatest upset in European Cup history. But a goal from Ulrich Hoeneß was enough to take the tie to penalties, where Bayern eventually prevailed.
Åtvidaberg’s Conny Torstensson still got to play in that season’s European Cup final. So impressed were the Bayern Munich hierarchy with his performance that night at Kopparvallen that they soon signed him, and he remained a key player in a squad that went on to win three European Cups in a row.
UPDATE: In Luxembourg last night AIK managed to ride out a 0-0 draw, meaning they’re one step closer to playing the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan. In the next round they’ll play Norwegian champions Trondheim Rosenborg.