Sweden

Daniel Stiller / Bildbyrån/ ifkgoteborg.se

NYCFC’s, er, Man City’s Diskerud back on loan to Goteborg

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Mix Diskerud’s last 11 months are something else when laid out, line-by-line.

March 2017:  Leaves NYCFC, on loan to Goteborg

December 2017: “Back” to NYCFC from Goteborg

Jan. 2018: Transfered from NYCFC to Man City

Friday: Back to Goteborg, on loan from Man City

[ MORE: American debuts for Chelsea ]

Diskerud, 27, seemed destined for a return to Goteborg after leaving Patrick Vieira’s NYCFC last season. He was a regular for the Swedish side at defensive mid and right mid, missing only one of 30 starts (yellow card accumulation).

But Manchester City bought his rights from NYCFC instead of Goteborg, and now Diskerud rejoins the club that very much appreciates him until… Man City says so?

It’s weird.

Diskerud had five goals and four assists for Goteborg, one of their more effective players according to advanced stats site WhoScored.com.

Ostersunds 0-3 Arsenal: Gunners too much in first leg

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Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil joined an Ostersunds own goal on the score sheet as Arsenal cruised past their Swedish hosts in the first leg of a UEFA Europa League Round of 32 tie on Thursday.

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David Ospina stopped a stoppage time penalty kick to preserve the clean sheet and deny the Swedish hosts the lifeline provided by a poorly-timed Hector Bellerin tackle.

Arsenal didn’t need to do too much to get a lead thanks to an Ostersunds side which had knocked off some strong sides but looked uncomfortable with the Gunners speed of play.

The second goal came when Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s hard cross took a turn off Sotirios Papagiannopoulos and into the Ostersunds goal.

Ozil rounded off the scoring with this run into the box to tap the ball over the sliding keeper.

Swedish club Ostersund finds success on and off soccer field

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BERLIN (AP) More famous for snow sports like cross-country skiing and biathlon, the “Winter City” of Ostersund is making quite a name for itself on the soccer field.

[ MORE: By the numbers, a closer look at the MLS Cup final ]

The club from the northern Swedish city has progressed so quickly that even reaching the last 32 of the Europa League isn’t enough for everyone.

“I’m a little bit low and down because we wanted to win the group and we didn’t do that,” Ostersunds FK chairman Daniel Kindberg told The Associated Press after his team was held to a 1-1 draw at Hertha Berlin. “I expected us to win the group and I expected us to be among the first seeds in the draw, but unfortunately we are not.”

Expectations like that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

Ostersund was formed in 1996 following the amalgamation of three local clubs. After more than a decade in the third division, the team was relegated in 2010, when Kindberg quit amid bickering at the boardroom level. He went back after the players threatened to quit, too.

When Kindberg returned, he sought backing from local companies and appointed Graham Potter, a former defender from England, as coach. Potter led the team to promotion in his first season, and then again to the second division in his next. The team reached Sweden’s top division in 2015.

“Graham is very important as a coach, manager, friend, brother. He has fantastic leadership. He’s one of a kind, one of the absolute most promising managers in Europe, no doubt about it,” Kindred said. “I said that five years ago that he was Scandinavia’s best manager and now he’s been selected two years in a row, the best manager in Sweden. So I think I know what I’m talking about.”

This season, Ostersund is playing in the Europa League for the first time. The team qualified for Europe’s second-tier club competition by winning the Swedish Cup.

The team’s success has continued, finishing second in Group J and earning a spot in the next round. With a group of unknowns and players rejected by other clubs, Ostersund became the first Swedish team since Helsingborg in 2007 to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League or UEFA Cup.

Kindberg, a former army man, acknowledged it’s been a “good” year, but added he was disappointed with the team’s fifth-place finish in the Swedish league.

“We’re going for the championship,” Kindberg said at a team party following Thursday’s draw at Hertha, adding he is looking to make it a treble by also winning another Swedish Cup and the Europa League.

Part of the team’s success has to do with its off-the-field activities.

While Potter takes care of the soccer, Kindred said the club has “five key individuals” who look after other aspects, including the social side and the cultural productions.

The team has staged art exhibitions, written books, helped refugees, made sure local women get home safely at night, and last year players performed Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet on stage. Two weeks ago, they produced a show celebrating the Sami people, the native reindeer herders from across Lapland.

“It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” said Kindred, explaining the reason behind the stage productions. “It’s a training method in decision-making and courage. That’s what it really is.”

Some players, however, took some convincing when the methods were first introduced.

“I said, `It’s OK, it’s fine. We respect you fully, but you have to play somewhere else.’ So that’s it. They didn’t object anymore,” Kindred said. “Everybody thinks football is about passing the ball, tactics. That’s a small part of football. The big part is the mental game, and the war to win the hearts and minds of people. That’s what football’s about.”

The social work undertaken by the club is just as important as the cultural or sporting side. Kindred said it’s part of Ostersund’s holistic approach.

“To take a stand for rightful things, for poor people, for people in danger, for human rights, it’s very important for us, because everyone wants to do good,” he said. “We started this path six years ago. We decided at that time it was important for us, for our identity. Our war against evil and bad things in society. We show that on the pitch, and we try and show it off the pitch. We try to do our best every day.”

The work off the field is even bringing in new fans.

Birgitta Karlsson said she was never interested in soccer until this year, but she travelled 23 hours by train and boat to see the team play in Berlin.

“There’s something really special with them,” Karlsson said. “They are good ambassadors for young people, for old people, for friendship, for being kind to each other, for children.”

Of the 15,686 spectators at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, about a quarter provided noisy support for Ostersund. After the game, the visiting players lined up in front of them and led a “Viking clap,” staying long afterward to continue the party.

“We are at the beginning of a journey that we hope will change the world and we hope will change things,” Kindberg said. “We have no limits at all. Every year, the Euro league is to be won. Every year, the Champions League is to be won. We need to be champions because that’s what we are.

“It’s easy. Football is the easiest game on Earth. It is people who complicate it. We try to be simple.”

Biggest travel winners, losers from World Cup draw

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The World Cup draw is important on so many levels.

Every team’s first game sets the tone for the rest of the group stage, and possible opponents could give fans hope or fear for whether the team will make it to the knockout stage.

But for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the draw was important from a travel perspective as well.

According to the blog Kalingrad Guide, Colombia won the “shortest travel” sweepstakes. By being placed in H3, Colombia and its fans will only have 472 miles to travel within the group stage, from Saransk to Kazan to Samara.

At the other end is Sweden, which will have around 2,896 miles to travel between host cities. Sweden starts in central Russia in Nizhny Novogrod before traveling to the southern-most host city Sochi, before a trip to the eastern-most host city, Yekaterinburg.

That doesn’t take into account either the travel for teams between their game sites and their home base. For example, England will have to travel more than 500 miles each way for all three of its group stage matches from its home base to the game.

For what it’s worth, Germany in 2014 had one of the longest travel schedules throughout Brazil, and they still managed to win the whole thing. We’ll see what happens this time around.

Italy misses World Cup for first time in 60 years as Sweden advances

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Another footballing giant has missed out on next summer’s World Cup, and this time it is four-time world champions Italy.

[ MORE: USMNT looks to forge ahead with match against Portugal ]

The Azzurri drew Sweden, 0-0, on Monday in their UEFA World Cup qualifying second leg at the San Siro, but the result was good enough for the Swedes to reach Russia in 2018 after coming away with a 1-0 victory in the first leg.

Gian Piero Ventura’s Italy became the first Azzurri side since 1958 to miss out of qualification into the world’s most prominent competition. That tournament was ironically held in Sweden, where the hosts finished runners’ up to Brazil.

Meanwhile, for Sweden, the Euro nation reaches the World Cup for the first time since 2006, after previously missing out on two successive editions of the competition (2010 & 2014).

The visitors sat back for much of the match and absorbed Italy’s pressure, but the Azzurri often made the task easy for Sweden with their lack of build up.

The Italians were desperate to get a first goal before halftime, when Ciro Immobile found himself in on goal, but his shot took a slight deflection from Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen and was ultimately cleared before the ball could trickle over the goal line by Andreas Granqvist.

Jorginho’s inclusion in the starting XI for the suspended Marco Verratti was a big talking point heading into the match, and the Napoli midfielder nearly made a major impact in the 27th minute.

The 25-year-old played a brilliant flicked ball over the top of Sweden back line towards Ciro Immobile, but the final shot by Antonio Candreva wasn’t on target.

Sweden didn’t have the ideal start to the second leg, with the Blue-Yellow forced to make a substitution inside the opening 20 minutes for the injured Jakob Johansson.

Marco Parolo had a legitimate shout for a penalty kick after just eight minutes when the Italian attacker was contacted in the Swedish penalty area.

The visitors had their own claim for a penalty in the 12th minute after the ball appeared to pop up and catch the arm of Candreva, however, the referee opted to play on once again.

[ MORE: Switzerland clinches World Cup berth ]

Italy joins Chile, Holland, the U.S. Men’s National Team, Ghana and the Ivory Coast as some of the most recognizable countries to miss out on next year’s World Cup.