Regular readers who follow the occasional inane ramblings of this writer are aware that he “adopted” the Swedish football club Ostersunds FK for the duration of the Europa League competition. Other keen football fans in The Local have also been following the fortunes of this small Swedish club and their successful English managerial import. Graham Potter will be the only British manager in this season’s Europa League group stages after leading Ostersunds FK to a comeback win over PAOK Salonika from Greece in the play-offs.
The Swedish side – who has risen from the fourth tier since Potter’s 2011 appointment – lost the first leg 3-1 in Greece. But a 2-0 home win in the return leg saw the Swedish cup holders go through on the away goal rule. Saman Ghoddos scored twice in the final 20 minutes of the second leg to send the hosts through amid thunderous cheers.
This homily little club north of Stockholm are, on the face of it, one of the weaker teams in the group stages however, they are improving fast and have already knocked out Galatasaray (Euro Club Index ranked 85th) and PAOK (120th) in qualification.
They have faced significant obstacles in progressing to the group stage and have impressed many with their progress. However, sterner tests now await them in the group stages. The draw was made for the groups on Friday 25th and the Swedish minnows are in group J along with a couple of heavy hitters, none more so than Athletic Bilbao. The club is one of three founding members of the Primera Division that have never been relegated from the top division, the others being Real Madrid and Barcelona. Athletic have won La Liga on eight occasions, fourth most in the history of the league. The Spanish team will be out and out favourites for the group and should finish top.
Hertha Berlin will also present a difficult task for Graham Potter’s Swedish side. The German side was founded in 1892, and where a founding member of the German Football Association in Leipzig in 1900 and have always presented strong opposition in European football over the years.
Zorya Luhansk makes up the final team in group J. The club is based in the city of Luhansk (formerly known as Voroshilovgrad), Luhansk Oblast, Ukraine. However, the club has had a nomadic life in the last few years because of the war in Eastern Ukraine; the team is currently playing its games at Slavutych-Arena in Zaporizhia. With a capacity of 12,000 the stadium is not dissimilar to Ostersunds in Sweden.
Ostersunds FK and their spectators are in a buoyant mood at the moment and will embrace the group games with gusto. If they hold their own in the three games at home and possibly steal an away win then they could finish third in the group. Their main chance of an upset could be against Zorya Luhansk and they travel to the Ukraine for the opening fixture on the 14th September. This writer will continue to follow the fortunes of Ostersunds FK and Graham Potter, their English manager. Many clubs in Potter’s home country are beginning to follow the fortunes of this young English manager and Ostersunds FK may struggle to hold onto him in the coming seasons. Maybe, just maybe he can cast another spell.