While the current season is barely a third of the way through in Europe’s more prominent leagues, champions are already being crowned in Scandinavia. Hot on the heels of FH Hafnarfjordur in Iceland and HJK Helsinki in Finland come IF Elfsborg, who won the Swedish Allsvenskan following a gripping finale.
Hailing from the city of Boras, the club sealed their sixth championship triumph on matchday 30 after an impressive series of results in the title run-in. In their last game of the campaign, a 1-1 draw against Atvidabergs FF was enough for Elfsborg after closest rivals Malmo FF lost 2-0 to AIK Solna. The newly installed champions ended the season on 59 points, two ahead of surprise package BK Hacken and three in front of Malmo.
Elfsborg only have themselves to blame for the anxious finale after throwing away an eight-point lead earned prior to the summer interlude. “Before the break we won seven games in a row,” coach Jorgen Lennartsson said. “We were unbelievably strong at the back and we didn’t need many chances to score up front.”
But nerves seemed to get the better of them in the second half of the season. Gradually the chasing pack clawed their way back into contention and seven games before the end, Hacken knocked Elfsborg off the league summit. Going into the home stretch, there was a three-way tussle for the title right until the final matchday, with Malmo also in the mix. The situation Lennartsson feared weeks beforehand had finally come true. “Hacken have a fantastic strike force, you can never write off Malmo and AIK [Solna] have the potential to play any opponent off the park. It’ll be a very close title race and it’ll probably only be decided on the last day of the season.”
Twelfth man counts
While his prediction was spot-on, Elfsborg fought back to win the championship for the first time since 2006. “We were top of the league on 23 of the 30 matchdays, so I think we deserve to be champions,” said Lennartsson, who led the side to glory in his first season at the helm. Elfsborg had been title contenders ever since their previous Allsvenskan triumph, but had only managed top-four finishes under predecessor Magnus Haglund.
Crucial to going the extra step this time was their home form. Lennartsson’s charges won 12 of their 15 games in front of their own fans and were the only side to remain undefeated on home soil all term. That return helped Elfsborg record the most victories of any team all season and it compensated for their shortcomings in other areas. Seven defeats on the road represents the joint-highest total among the top-four teams (along with Hacken), while the statistical honours of most goals scored, least conceded and best goal difference went to other sides.
Goteborg-based outfit Hacken were far and away the sharpest shooters in the division, netting 67 times. Only Kalmar FF found the net more often in recent history, scoring 70 goals in their 2008 championship-winning season. Top scorer Majeed Waris (22 goals), Rene Makondele (12) and Martin Ericsson (8) hit almost two-thirds of Hacken’s total haul between them, helping the club to its best ever league finish as runners-up.
In contrast, last season’s double winners Helsingborgs IF had a disappointing campaign. Not only were the current UEFA Europa League participants dethroned, but they finished down in fifth, meaning they will only be spectators in next season’s European competition.
Orebro SK und GAIS Goteborg suffered an even worse fate and were relegated into the second division after finishing bottom of the standings.