Europa League opposition watch: Who are AIK?

Thu, Jul 12 2018

Rikard Norling the AIK manager in Tallaght Stadium during 2013 Europa League qualifier against Drogheda United in Tallaght Stadium Credit: Larry McQuillan (ETPhotos)

Allmänna Idrottsklubben (The Sports Club) or probably more conveniently for most of us AIK make the journey to Tallaght Stadium to face Shamrock Rovers in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening (ko 7.05pm). 

The 11 times Swedish champions who finished in second place in the 2017 Allsvenskan are currently unbeaten this season and are sitting top of the league one point clear of Hammarby after 13 games. 

AIK are based in the Stockholm suburb of Solna and play their home games in the 50,000 capacity Friends Arena – the stadium that hosted the 2017 Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United.

Their average home gate for last season was in excess of 21,000 so Rovers fans can expect a decent atmosphere when they arrive for the second leg on Thursday week.

This will be AIK’s first time playing against a League of Ireland side in Europe. They did however defeat Linfield 2-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round of the 2014/15 Europa League, the second leg which they lost 1-0 at Windsor Park.

They have also defeated Glentoran 9-0 on aggregate at the same stage of the 2007/08 UEFA cup as it was known then. 

AIK are managed by Rikard Norling who has been in the dugout on three separate occasions in Tallaght Stadium.

Norling managed Malmo in the stadium twice – a 2-1 friendly win against Rovers in June 2012 and in a scoreless draw against Drogheda United in the 2013 Europa League qualifiers – as well as taking charge of Norwegian side Brann which Rovers beat 3-2 in a friendly back in February 2015. 

The Swedish side are seasoned European campaigners. In 1996/97 they reached the quarter finals of the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

In 1999/2000 qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League where they finished bottom of a group that contained Arsenal, Barcelona and Fiorentina.

Last season’s Europa League is a good benchmark to assess their current ability as their squad was of similar makeup to this season. 

They exited the competition at the third qualifying round stage losing to Portuguese side Braga 3-2 on aggregate after extra time in the second leg following early round victories over KI of the Faroe Islands and Zeljeznicar of Bosnia.

As there was no domestic based players called up to Janne Anderson’s Swedish World Cup roster it is expected that AIK will bring a full squad to Dublin with no injury worries to report after a thumping 4-1 win away at Trelleborg last weekend – a game that Shamrock Rovers Sporting Director Stephen McPhail attended to run his eye over the opposition.

Tarik Elyounoussi, an attacking midfielder who scored twice in that victory is a key part of Norling’s side. With 48 international caps for Norway, the Moroccan born playmaker is someone Rovers will need to watch closely. The team is captained by 33-year-old Eritrean striker Henok Goitom . 

Sebastian Larsson won’t feature on Thursday night having just signed for AIK as he was part of Swedan’s run to the quarter final of the World Cup. 

The veteran midfielder has played over 400 games for Birmingham City, Sunderland and Hull City signed from Hull in June but has yet to feature in this season’s Allsevenskan.

With 104 caps for Sweden he will bring a vast amount of experience to a side that contains mostly Swedish born players with little full international experience.

With a UEFA Club ranking of 236 out of 442, AIK will be confident of turning over Rovers who sit at number 378.

The Tallaght based side however will be aware that League of Ireland clubs have beaten Swedish opposition before with Derry City notably defeating IFK Gothenburg 2-0 on aggregate in 2006 and based on AIK’s most recent European performances certainly have a chance of progressing.

Additional reporting by Macdara Ferris.