Sweden is currently going football crazy with their women’s national side doing extremely well in the ladies Euro 2013 taking place across the country, but all the focus will be on the Swedbank Stadion tonight when Scottish Cup runners-up Hibernian travel to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hometown to face the Allsvenskan league leaders Malmö FF in the Europa League clash.
Malmö lead the Allsvenskan by one point over Helsingborgs, who have a game in hand, and could have the advantage over Hibs having been playing competitively since March, unlike Hibs who are only three games into their pre-season campaign. However, Malmö have played four games in the last ten days and will be feeling the effects.
After the 4-0 win over Åtvidabergs on Sunday, Malmö’s man-of-the-match Magnus Eriksson told Swedish national newspaper Aftonbladet: “Damn, that’s four tough games in ten days that I have played. So now I’m tired.”
This could play into the hands of the Hibees, particularly in the later stages of the match if they can keep the Blues at bay during the opening period. Another thing that could play into the hands of the Edinburgh side is the unknown for Malmö. With Hibs having had many opportunities since finding out the draw to scout Malmö, Malmö have only had the one: a drab 0-0 friendly against Raith Rovers last Friday. This led to captain Jiloan Hamad admitting: “I don’t know anything about them [Hibernian].”
One of the key battles on the pitch will be between Hibs captain James McPake and Malmö’s top scorer Thomas Rantie. With striking partner Eriksson doing a lot of the build-up play, Rantie’s job is to get on the final pass, with his speed a big bonus for Malmö. McPake will have to be very physical to stop the 22-year old getting in on the Hibernian goal and causing big problems for Ben Williams.
Another player Hibs will have to watch for is skipper Jiloan Hamad. The Swedish international is a very direct player who will look to get forward and create opportunities for Rantie and Eriksson to score. He also likes to chip in with goals with five to his name so far this season. Hibs’ Northern Irish left-back Ryan McGivern will have to be on top form, closing down Hamad at all times and not giving him the time and the space to dictate the play for the home side.
One of Hibs’ main jobs will be getting past Erik Friberg, the tough tackling Swedish anchorman. I attended the match against Åtvidabergs on Sunday and was impressed at his marshalling of the midfield and his tackling ability. Friberg holds no prisoners but always seems to come away from every tackle with the ball. His play reminded me of the role made famous by Claude Makelele or at SPFL standard, former Hearts ace Julien Brellier. It is a challenge that Kevin Thomson and Liam Craig will love though and if Craig can get past Friberg, he could worry the Malmö goal with his long-range shooting ability.
It will be a big night for Hibs’ strikers to impress boss Pat Fenlon. Without their talisman for the last two seasons, Leigh Griffiths who has returned to parent club Wolves, it will be down to two of 19-year old academy graduates Ross Caldwell and Dan Handling and new signing Rowan Vine. All are untested on the European stage but they will be given the chance to make themselves heroes forever to the Hibs support.
This match is full of unknowns for both teams with Malmö not knowing a lot about their Scottish counterparts and Hibs young team still blending together but in a stadium as atmospheric as the Swedbank Stadion it should be another memorable European night for both sides.
Written by Jonathan Slatter