It’s relatively safe to say that Malmö fans are satisfied with simply making it to the group stage of the 2014/15 Champions League. Anything else is a bonus.
The club has never managed to progress beyond the qualifying rounds in the modern version of the competition, so thrashing Red Bull Salzburg 3-0 at home (4-2 on aggregate) and guaranteeing six fixtures against Europe’s elite is virtually a prize in itself for supporters not accustomed to seeing opponents of the calibre of Atletico Madrid and Juventus in official competitions.
Manager Åge Hareide reflected that sentiment by telling Fotbollskanalen that reaching the group stage is "as good as it gets" for Malmö, making it clear that the Allsvenskan title holders have set the realistic target of third place in Group A, and a subsequent spot in the Europa League knockout stage.
It wasn’t always like that for Malmö. Followers of English and Swedish football alike will be aware of their dream run to the 1979 European Cup final under Bob Houghton, where the Swedes were defeated by the smallest of margins after losing 1-0 to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
In the 1975/76 European Cup, meanwhile, Malmö narrowly missed out on a spot in the quarter-finals, with eventual winners Bayern Munich edging them by two goals to one on aggregate. A single Malmö strike in the second leg of the tie in Munich would have changed the course of European football history, denying Bayern their third successive trophy, as the Swedes would have progressed on away goals after keeping a clean sheet at home.
That stretch in the 1970s was Malmö’s European peak, and domestically, their top-level quality was reflected by dominance in the Swedish league. Starting in 1967, Malmö won the league on average once every other year over the course of eleven seasons, making them the powerhouse of Swedish football at the time by some distance.
Reaching such a high level took time for Malmö however, and there were a few false starts along the way. Notably, just before the dawn of their glory period, the Himmelsblått were handed a European humbling that is particularly pertinent in the wake of this week’s Champions League draw.
In the first round of the 1966/67 European Cup, Malmö faced Spanish champions Atletico Madrid. La Liga holders once more, Atletico are the top seed in Malmö’s current Champions League group. The result of their last meeting back in 1966 wasn’t a pretty one for the Swedes.
The first leg took place in Sweden, and Atletico comfortably dispatched their opponents, winning 2-0 with both goals arriving before half-time. The second leg saw an even more dominant display from the Spaniards, putting three past Malmö this time. The Swedish side managed a consolation goal, but the 5-1 aggregate score isn’t exactly a positive note in Malmö’s European history, a stark contrast to the success that would come a decade later. Notably, Atletico legend Luis Aragones scored in both legs.
When these same two sides meet on Europe’s biggest stage once more in October the Swedes will be hoping to do at least a touch better than back in 1966. Appropriately, the venue for their reunion is the Vicente Calderon, the same place their last meeting in the European Cup took place.