Zeljeznicar vs AIK by Sweem
AIK invested a lot to be a competitive side in Allsvenskan, when they brought in U21 Sweden's captain Kristoffer Olsson on the midfield, and when they also presented Simon Thern from Herenveen, they were seen as strong competitors. AIK have a recent history with Bosnia - after they signed Sloboda Tuzlas striker, Sulejman Krpic, in hopes that he would bang goals in Sweden. Unfortunately, he did not succeed and AIK terminated the contract with the Bosnian striker. Despite the interesting squad, AIK have been one of the bigger disappointments in Swedish football 2017.
Coach Rikard Norling is a possession coach, but his biggest problem is to generate offense. Defensively, AIK have the best defense in Sweden, but have barely averaged one goal per game this season, which consequently leads to getting the boring stamp. It is difficult to disagree, AIK are playing very unsexy for the time being and lack offensive weapons. This is particularly the case when playing away games. Even the Faroe Island side Klaksvik managed a 0-0 result against AIK, but lost the following game 5-0. Surely, against part time professionals, AIK can generate results at home. They are extremely passive as visitors, and expect no different this time when they visit Sarajevo in Bosnia, in hot weather and hostile supporters against a much dangerous team than their recent Faroese opponents.
AIK plays a 3-5-2 formation with wide wingbacks, and rely on veteran striker Henok Goitom and Eero Markkanen. Two quite static forwards with size. Squad wise, AIK look OK with an overall healthy squad, despite some questionable slow performances.
Zeljeznicar got past FK Zeta in the previous round, by being very dominant at home, with 62% possession and three times more attempts than their opponents. Slavko Petrovic is a coach who has been around in the Balkans and coached in Serbia, and now also in Bosnia. In fact, looking at it statistically, his most successful time as a coach has been in Zeljeznicar where he has only 4 losses in 34 matches. In simplified terms, it is a difficult side to beat, not least at home.
For the hosts, their top striker Ivan Lendric (32/19) left the club following a transfer to France. He is of course a key piece in Zeljeznicar and even scored the vital goals versus Zeta in the qualifying round prior to this stage.
Playing in the Balkan countries is never easy, and especially when you are from the opposite part of Europe, being the northern. The trips are long, the weather is much different and the type of opponents are generally technically superior. The Swedes often struggle in matches as soon as they travel to Southern or Eastern Europe. They appear more passive and play without the same confidence and rely on their phsyicality to get a result. In other words, AIK have not travelled to Bosnia to play attractive football, but instead prefer to keep it close and try to settle it at home, where it can be a different story.
The question mark is how Zeljeznicar will cope without their main striker in the long run. However, the team appears comfortable at home, and have threats in Asim Zec who is quick, agile and dangerous when it comes to scoring, even from his attacking midfield position. The Bosnian side will dominate AIK when it comes to taking care of the ball, that is obvious. The Swedes will make sure they are organized, and rely on set pieces where AIK have good sized players in Eero Markkanen (197cm) and Henok Hoitom (189cm) and Deni Avdic (193cm) when needed.
I see this game being challenging for AIK in a weather that will be humid and sticky, and make it difficult to keep intensity for 90 minutes. It leans to be low scoring, but I see Zeljeznicar being the team that tries the hardest to go for the victory and therefore I like the protection for draw no bet, while giving trust to the Bosnians to clinch a victory.