Sweden: Häcken and Djurgårdens go head-to-head

WHILE Sweden’s women are making a splash in Euro 2022, the men’s league programme is approaching the mid-point, with BK Häcken of Göteborg and Stockholm’s Djurgårdens leading the way. Last season’s champions, Malmö are languishing in fifth place, but cannot be written off.

Häcken host Djurgårdens on July 24 in a big top-of-the-table clash on the artificial turf at the Bravida Arena. It has been an interesting season so far, with crowds averaging 10,400 – currently the best average since 1968 – and Häcken launching a bid for their first Allsvenskan title.

Häcken are in their first full season with Norwegian national team manager Per-Mathias Høgma in charge of the club. Last season, they finished 12th, but in the previous four years, Häcken had been one of the most consistent clubs in Sweden. Their patient build-up play and very controlled defence have proved very successful in 2022-23, and before meeting Djurgårdens, they had lost just once, at home to IFK Göteborg.

Häcken are not one of Sweden’s best supported clubs, their current average is around 4,500, but the game with Djurgårdens could fill their home ground. Häcken have benefitted from the goals of 28 year-old Alexander Jeremejeff, who has netted 14 times in 12 games. The journeyman striker was previously with Dynamo Dresden but also had a loan spell with Twente. Another forward, Leo Bengtsson, has moved from Häcken to Aris Limassol after two and a half years with the club.

Reigning champions Malmö started the season well, but then had a losing streak that lasted three games. They’ve lost four times already, after just five defeats in the whole of 2021. They have had the distraction of the Champions League qualifiers, getting past Vikingur Reykjavik and are in the middle of a two-legged tie with Lithuania’s Žalgiris. They lost the first game 1-0 in Vilnius. Malmö are struggling to score goals, just 19 so far compared to 58 in 2021.

AIK are in third place, just behind the front two, hoping to win their first Allsvenskan since 2018, and Stockholm rivals Hammarby, who enjoy the best crowds, more than 27,000 , are in fourth.

Swedish football continues to be something of a nursery for other football markets, such as the Premier League and Ligue 1. The national team didn’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but in Euro 2020, only three of the 26-man squad was playing in domestic football in Sweden and most were spread right across Europe. However, only the Danish Superliga has a higher ratio of club-trained players among Europe’s leagues and the Allsvenskan also has one of the lowest percentages of expatriates (just 28%).

Swedish football tries to make a broader contribution to society and last year, Malmö pledged to increase employment opportunities for refugees. The city has had its problems with migrants and has a history of engaging refugees, such as during the second world war when they helped save 7,000 Danish Jews.

Although Malmö are currently trailing the likes of Häcken, many will expect them to make a strong bid for the title in the second half of the season. IFK Göteborg are still a long way from their historic highs and last won the Allsvenskan in 2007. They can still draw 15,000 to their stadium, but they have been overtaken on the field by Malmö, among others.

Häcken and Djurgårdens may not last the pace, but they have a chance to strengthen their title bids when they meet at the Bravida. Häcken went close in 2012, finishing runners-up to Elfsborg by just two points, Djurdårdens, who have won the Allsvenskan eight times, were last champions in 2019. A victory for Häcken would endorse their credentials, but there’s still half a season to run in the 2022 Allsvenskan.