Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sweden & Basel May 2016

Four matches in Sweden including a Stockholm derby and then the Europa League final in Basel.

13th May 2016  Jonkopings Sodra 1 Helsingborgs 1  Allsvenskan   5,005 (c. 500 away)

My route was a flight into Gothenburg then I used the bus company ‘bus4you’, at quite a reasonable price, to get to Jonkopings.

The old style ground is walkable from the centre although it’s mostly uphill.
When you get there you see semi-temporary ends, to the left the away section and to the right the home fans.
Opposite is a low level covered stand while the ‘main stand’ is slightly larger.

And a good crowd turned out on this Friday night including decent numbers supporting Helsingborg.

Of particular interest was the family connections in each team.
The coach of Jonkopings, Jimmy Thelin, had as his captain his younger brother Tommy while the more famous manager of the visitors, Henrik Larsson, included his son Jordan (apparently named after the basketball star) up front.

Ultimately it was honours even.

Jonkopings produced more chances in the first period although it was Helsingborg who went closest, twice hitting the frame of the goal.
And it was the visitors who went ahead when tall defender Helstrup Jensen nodded home a corner on the stroke of half time.

In effect the lead did not last long as Pawel Cibicki nicely guided in a shot from the edge of the area soon after the interval.
Both Cibicki and Northern Irishman Daryl Smylie had a few more efforts but Chencinski in the away goal remained solid.

It was a hard fought game throughout and a draw seemed about right.

I was close enough to observe Henrik Larsson and he constantly encouraged from the touchline, offering an arm around the shoulder as necessary.
As for his son, well he showed some fine left foot touches but never had many opportunities to add to his goal tally.

It got chilly later and I warmed up on the downhill walk and enjoyed a pint, at a cost, in a pub on the way back to my hotel.
Many of the locals were doing the same, including some students in end-of-term attire (I think)

14th May  Kalmar 1 Hammarby 1  Allsvenskan  10,289 (c. 3,000 away)

From Jonkopings I was joined by some Hammarby fans for the journey to Alvesta, then more for the connection on to Kalmar.
The town itself was well stocked with those in green & white.
And not surprisingly they packed into one end of the newish Guldfageln Arena.

The pre-game show featured a tumult of smoke, most being green & white though the home fans also did their thing.
Such was the scene that the game was delayed for over 15 minutes, apparently there was a security camera issue as well.

When we eventually started Kalmar did the pressing, producing a series of corners and they generally looked more fluent.
Especially in midfield where the Brazilians Lima and Romario often set up the moves.

They got their reward when Antonsson, after missing an earlier chance, benefited from a defender error to drive in the opener.
It was a dominant first half effort from the home side.

But in a game-of-two-halves scenario Hammarby, now attacking their vociferous fans, brought on Alexssander and he soon perked up their attack.
So on the hour they equalised.

Otherwise fairly anonymous top scorer Israelsson was allowed too much space and he curled a shot into the top corner to make it 1-1.
Both sides had some more half chances but ultimately the match drifted towards a draw.

What remained was the memory of the superb Hammarby support.

I took the bus back to the station and thence on to my hotel in Alvesta.

Nearby was a restaurant - Alvesta is not flush with such things.
There I selected a kebab salad while Swedish Gladiators performed on the TV.

Later I managed to stay awake long enough to see most of the Eurovision acts.
Favouring Australia I did wonder should they have won would they have staged the next event in Earl’s Court - or is that an outdated take on such things ?

15th May  AFC United 1 Varbergs 1  Superettan  273

Sunday morning and an early train to the capital.
Which was not at its best with a chilly wind and rain.

But staying in Solna meant I didn’t have far to go to see this second level game involving the league leaders.
Their Skytteholms ground is small with one stand and some old wooden terrace at either end.

If they did manage to get promoted they would definitely have to play at a larger stadium.
The match itself, on an artificial surface, was yet another 1-1 draw.

AFC went behind early when Ghanaian wide man Thomas Boakye cracked in a shot off the bar following a corner.

It seemed that the home side were not at their best.
When they did threaten it was usually from Dutch winger Othman El Kabir.

Despite having more possession it took them a while before they levelled.
And El Kabir was inevitably involved, his shot hitting the post before sub. Ferid Ali drove home the rebound.  

Both sides came close, including an effort cleared from the line, prior to the conclusion.

It had been a chilly watch and I could have done with my woolly hat and gloves.

Afterwards I enjoyed some Souvlaki and Baklava as the weather turned even more wintry.

16th May  AIK 2 Djurgarden 0  Allsvenskan  26,109 (c. 6,000 away)

The morning and early afternoon was taken up with some time in central Stockholm and a visit to the very popular, and stunning, Vasa Museum.
Interesting to note that the vast ship, sunk in 1628,  had only two crew toilets - much like the Heathrow Express.
You have to hope they worked better.

Later & back in thankfully milder Solna I walked to the impressive Friends Arena for this Stockholm derby.
You could tell it was a significant match because there was a helicopter overhead.

And inside the ultras were well organised to put on a show.

That meant copious smoke, at both ends.
Again the start was delayed.

When we got going the match, for a derby, became quite open.
With periods of end to end action.

But the outcome was decided by two set plays.
Firstly Stefan Ishizaki chipped in a free kick that probably should have been dealt with by the Djurgarden goalie.
The second, on 56 minutes, was a straightforward header by Icelander Haukur Hauksson.

It was a mostly disappointing display by the visitors who were always denied by Carlgren in the AIK goal when they did threaten.
Throughout we had a fine range of songs from the home ultras as well as plenty of flares.
And they would go home happy with their team advancing to 4th in the Allsvenskan.

From Stockholm I travelled via Dusseldorf to Zurich then on to my hotel in Mulhouse (Dornach).
The evening was spent enjoying some saumon fume, cote de veau, assiette de fromage and
some vino tinto - sometimes you just have to slum it.

The following day I joined numbers of Liverpool fans on the train to Basel.

18th May   Liverpool 1 Sevilla 3   Europa League final   Basel  34,429

Not surprisingly red was the predominate colour as we sat in Starbucks watching the fans walking back and forth.
And there was plenty of walking to be done as there didn’t seem to be any viable transport to get to the awkwardly positioned St Jakob Park.

But once inside the stadium you could experience some atmosphere, and see a small skirmish between two sets of adjacent fans.
Nothing like the bad old days but highlighted now because it doesn’t occur so often.

That was soon quelled and we sat back and watched a mercifully short Opening Ceremony.
Before the two teams emerged into the noise.

Certainly it was the Liverpool fans who turned up the volume for the first half of the match.

And their team had the better of the first period culminating in a superb finish from Daniel Sturridge.
They might have had a another had the officials given a debatable handball decision.

In what was, at times, a very fragmented 45 minutes the Merseysiders went in ahead and looked on for a revival of past glories.

But within seconds of the restart that all changed.

Ferreira attacked down the right flank, crossed and top scorer Kevin Gameiro, up until then an observer, converted from close range for 1-1.

As many saw it Alberto Moreno was culpable but as the half wore on a number of his colleagues also went missing as Liverpool produced a very passive and tame second half performance.

Sevilla never looked back and captain Coke added two more including a brilliant combination move with Vitolo and Banega.
They might even have added a couple more as Liverpool weakly capitulated .

That was despite Jurgen Klopp’s desperate urging from the touchline.
Tellingly one of the better overall Liverpool performances was from ageing defender Kolo Toure.
Though Lallana, Milner, Can and co. delivered in the first half not much was seen of them afterwards.

And when the outcome became inevitable, and with no Steven Gerrard for inspiration, the Reds fans starting to silently drift away.
I guess they felt they had given enough support but their team had lacked staying power.

For Unai Emery’s Sevilla and the Spanish contingent it was a great triumph to claim a third successive such title.
While for Klopp, who has now lost 5 consecutive major finals, it means some soul searching in the close season.
Does he enhance what he has with a few amendments or go for drastic surgery ?

Like many I didn’t remain for the, no doubt, prolonged final rites and walked back with the LIverpool fans into the rainy night.
A couple of drinks in the hotel and bed soon after midnight for your correspondent.

The next day I travelled back via Geneva to London.

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