Europe: New seasons in Norway, Sweden and Russia
It is around this time of year where most of Europe’s major leagues are just getting into the business end of the season whereas in some other countries the season is just about to start for yet another year. There are three cases of the latter occurring in Norway, Sweden and Russia this weekend and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews each of these championships ahead of the big kick-off:
The Allsvenskan kicks off on Saturday afternoon with last season’s runners-up IFK Göteborg away at Kalmar FF with the record champions from Gothenburg hoping to begin to make up for last season’s disappointment of finishing four points behind AIK Solna. The champions celebrated the domestic league and cup double last season and, only last weekend, won the 2010 Swedish Super Cup and will want to carry on this winning momentum with an opening weekend win at home to last season’s Superettan (second tier) champions AIF Mjällby. Former European Cup finalist Malmö FF have been struggling in mid-table obscurity in recent years and haven’t won the Swedish championship since 2004. They hope to improve on this by beating GAIS away with former Sweden international Roland Nilsson, the coach of Malmö, going back to the Gothenburg side which he managed between 2002-07. Djurgårdens, who survived in the Allsvenskan thanks to a two-legged play-off victory over Assyriska at the end of last season, will hope to begin with three points over Häcken BK whilst newly-promoted Åtvidabergs will want to impress or, at the very least, avoid embarrassment by gaining something from their game away at Örebro SK. The other three matches on Matchday 1 sees 1999 champions Helsingborgs play IF Brommapojkarna, Halmstads BK at home to Trelleborgs FF and Gefle IF at home to Elfsborg IF.
Record champions Rosenborg Trondheim secured their twenty-first Tippaligaen title in 2009 finishing a comfortable thirteen points ahead of nearest challengers Molde FK. Erik Hamren, who coached Rosenborg to the title last season, will stay with the champions until August when he takes full responsibilty for the Swedish national team, a job he has been doing on a part-time basis since November last year. Rosenborg begin the defence of the title with as tough a test as they could’ve wished for; an away trip to last season’s runners-up Molde! SK Brann Bergen will hope for a title challenge this season with last season’s Player of the Year Erik Huseklepp hoping to make as much impact as in 2009. SK Brann begin the campaign with a home match against last season’s Adeccoligaen (second-tier) champions FK Haugesund whilst the other promoted sides Hønefoss BK and Kongsvinger, who qualified via an end-of-season play-off in 2009, play against Tromsø IL and Strømsgodset IF respectively. Aalesunds FK, who are coached by former international Kjetil Rekdal, begin 2010 with a home match against Lillestrøm SK for whom former Manchester United star Henning Berg is in charge. Stabæk IF, whose defence of the title last season was unsuccessful, will face-off against Odd Grenland whilst Viking FK start their season against Vålerenga, whose 2005 championship triumph feels so long ago now while in the remaining game on Matchday 1 sees IK Start play Sandefjord Fotball.
Having won the Russian Premier League for the last two seasons Rubin Kazan’s main ambition for 2010 is to make it a hat-trick of titles, for the side based in Tatarstan have high ambitions to become the new dominant force in Russian football. Having beaten record champions Spartak Moscow by eight points in the 2009 season Rubin will want to take charge of the league from the beginning and they have considerably more match practice than their opponents as they have been in UEFA Europa League action in the last month whilst the rest of the league have been in training camps or playing friendly matches abroad. The champions’ campaign begins on Sunday, three days after their UEFA Europa League tie with VfL Wolfsburg, with a home tie against Lokomotive Moscow. Elsewhere Valeri Karpin begins his first full season in charge of Spartak Moscow, having replaced Michael Laudrup last season, and sees his charges begin with a home derby against Dinamo Moscow. Zenit Saint Petersburg, with Italian Luciano Spalletti in charge following the departure of Dick Advocaat, begin away at Krylia Sovetov Samara who were close to dropping out of the Premier League due to financial difficulties but got a last-minute stay of execution having attracted some new sponsors. CSKA Moscow get the show on the road on Friday night with a home game against Amkar Perm and hope that Miloš Krasić will continue the good form that he showed last season, especially in the UEFA Champions League. Two teams who hope to improve on average campaigns last season are FC Rostov and Tom Tomsk who meet each other this weekend and will want to better their 14th and 9th place finishes from last season. Three promoted teams will get their campaigns under way with tough home ties. Last season’s First League (second-tier) champions Anzhi Makhachkala, Sibir Novosibirsk and Alania Vladikavkaz (the 1995 Russian champions) play against Spartak Nalchik, Terek Grozny and FC Saturn respectively.