Ostersunds vs Bilbao by Sweem
Ostersund will welcome the Spanish side Athletic Bilbao to northern Sweden, where so many teams have now fallen short and wondered what just really happened? Because, after all Ostersund are not in Europa League due to finishing high up in the standings domestically. If you have not thought about it - Ostersund won the Swedish cup which granted them a place in the qualification rounds and they impressively made it all the way.
In a group with Zorya, Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao, many people raised their eyebrows wondering who Ostersund actually were. It is their first ever appearance in any form of European competition, so it is understandable that they have flown under the radar. However, if following Swedish football, their success comes as no surprise. It should be remembered that only 5 years ago, this team played in the fourth tier in Sweden (equivalent to League Two in England).
They have built a concept based on unique ways - very non-Swedish. To begin with, they have kept the same coach Graham Potter since 2011, who has been applying his philosophy on the team for several years now. They conduct recruitments differently than their competitors - often signing former rejected players at various clubs to give them a chance in Ostersund to save their careers, or generally signing players with a trouble maker reputation. They have created a very strong team spirit and together created this journey. It is the result of 5-6 years of consistent work that we see today in Europa League.
With a very physical midfield, Ostersund are good at dispossessing opponents where Fouad Bachirou and Brwa Nouri are the keys. On the flank, Ken Sema is incredibly physical and good one-on-one, while up front the Iranian international striker, Saman Ghoddos, have been leathal and a constant threat with his trickery and shooting ability.
The Swedes play a very possession based football with a lot of movement and position exchanges. It works best at artificial turf, but they have also managed to be more cynical when playing at natural turf for example in Ukraine where they beat Zorya with 0-2. Ostersund then played at home against Hertha Berlin and won 1-0. Next in the victim row - Athletic Bilbao? Perhaps.
The Spanish side are no strangers to anybody and not in European football either. It is a side with many known players, but this will be their biggest shock trip of their careers to come to northern Sweden to a town with no international airport, which makes it overly complicated to get to the venue. Adding the weather factor - forecasts suggests it will be 0 degrees celcius at kickoff, with rain and dazzle. This is perfect conditions for the hosts, but for Bilbao, it will be something different from the current summer like weather in Spain. The pitch is artificial, which is something Bilbao have not played on, and the arena is compact.
Bilbao have had a difficult start to the group stages with one 0-0 draw against Hertha Berlin, and a loss at home versus Zorya. Depending on how serious Bilbao considers Europa League, this becomes a must-win situation for the Spanish side, in these tough conditions. Bilbao will likely want to get the game done and dusted and get off the pitch as quick as possible and struggle to maintain intensity and focus throughout the game.
At home, Ostersund have been underdogs against Galatasaray, PAOK, Hertha Berlin and won each time at home. Their confidence is boosted, the stadium is sold out and the weather conditions will make it unpleasant for todays opponent more than anybody in this group. The reason for this preview is that betting on solely a well known European name can be dangerous. The odds will always reflect the names of the teams. Bilbao is a more known team than Ostersund, hence the odds are very skewed. I will not bite on the team names - and gladly take the hosts to cause another upset, which is very overpriced. The hosts will thrive and be motivated to play a well known opponent and take a giant step towards qualifying.