Calm before the storm in northern Europe
While most the leagues in Europe are approaching the business end of their seasons, the stadiums in the north of the continent lie empty, with the Scandinavian championships still a week or two away from starting their 2011 campaigns. FIFA.com takes a quick tour of the region to preview the seasons ahead.
All to play for in Sweden
We begin our journey in Sweden with the Allsvenskan. Defending champions Malmo get their new season up and running on Sunday in Trelleborg, with runners-up Helsingborgs in action the following day away to Mjalby. The title race went right to the wire last year, with the top two going into the final matchday level on points. In the end, though, Roland Nilsson steered Malmo to their first league title since 2004 and their 16th overall, setting a new Swedish record in the process.
However, with six different teams – Djurgardens, Elsborg, IFK Goteborg, Kalmar, AIK Solna and Malmo – having won the title over the past seven years, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's former club may find that retaining the Allsvenskan crown is an even bigger challenge.
From Tallinn to Trondheim
It should be easier to predict who will win the Meistriliiga in Estonia, or at least from which city the club will come. The capital, Tallinn, has been home to the trophy since 2000, with FC Levadia winning it five times, FC Flora four times and FC TVMK once. As is the case in Sweden, the current title holders have the record for the most championships, with Flora winning no fewer than eight titles since the league was founded in 1992.
The Estonian top flight is home to only ten clubs, who play one another four times during a season that runs from March to November. Flora open their title defence on Tuesday 8 March.
Copenhagen leading the way
Meanwhile, Norway's record title-winners, Rosenborg BK, will once again be the team to beat in the Tippeligaen, having claimed their 22nd league championship last time out.
The competition will be eager to see just how strong the challenge is this year from Rosenborg, who get their title defence gets underway at the home of 2007 champions Brann Bergen on 20 March. Also of interest will be how nine-time league winners Fredrikstad FK fare back in the top flight after a one-year absence.
Unlike their other northern European counterparts, the Danes already have 19 matchdays under their belts. Thus far, there has been no stopping FC Copenhagen as they head inexorably towards their ninth Superligaen crown. The capital outfit are 19 points clear of Odense in second and, with just 14 matches to go, look a shoo-in for a third consecutive crown.
Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken attempted to keep a lid on expectations at the start of the season, claiming that his team was "not as strong on paper as last year" – a claim that now looks like false modesty on the part of the Norwegian. In the Round of 16 of the current UEFA Champions League campaign, Copenhagen fell at home 2-0 to Chelsea in the first leg, but even if they were to miss out on a place in the quarter-finals, they can still reflect with satisfaction on a season which saw them become the first Danish team to reach the knockout stages of Europe's premier club competition.
Patience a virtue
Fans in the Faroe Islands and Finland will have to wait a little longer for their respective championships to kick off. The Faroese season begins on 9 April, while the Finnish Veikkausliiga starts as late as 28 April. The respective reigning champions, HB Torshavn and HJK Helsinki, will both be hoping to make it three league titles in a row, although with a whole season ahead of them they may have to wait until as late as November for that to happen.
At the other end of the scale, Copenhagen, with their commanding lead at the top of the table, could be celebrating their own hat-trick of titles as early as April.