Ostersunds vs Fola
If you have ever heard the expression of something being located in ‘the middle of nowhere’ this is an accurate fixture to describe it. You may wonder how the Galatasaray players felt when they arrived up north, to the small artificial stadium. The rest is now history. The Turkish side were knocked out by Ostersund, and here is a fun fact for you: There are 50,000 people in the entire town Ostersund – that is less than what Galatasaray could fit in their whole Stadium (52,000 capacity) and still they could not discard them.
The town is on total football fever at the moment after the success – and the interest has never been bigger in Ostersund, who are mainly known for their skiing resort. Ostersund are in Europa League qualifiers thanks to winning the Swedish Cup. In other words, it is not because of their position in the standing. Sooner or later, by the looks of it – Ostersund will be a serious challenger to win Allsvenskan.
The club is unique in their concept of how an organization should be run. They have played together for a long time and done the journey together from the lower divisions of Sweden. Coach Graham Potter is from England, and he is more than just their coach – he is a leader who sees more than the football player, which is part of why he has managed to get the best out of former “trouble maker” footballers and players with foreign background but grown up in Sweden. They have a very delicate scouting system, where they often find golden picks from lower leagues in Sweden and England – basically, they look where nowhere else is looking.
More impressively, they play very accurate possession based football which they have practiced for several seasons, which is of very high quality. This is regardless if the opponent is Galatasaray or someone else. It is very difficult to travel to Ostersund, it is located very high up north in Sweden and the stadium turf is artificial – something that Fola are not used to play on. For many teams that visit Ostersund, it is a bit of a cultural shock because of the location and also surprised of the type of football that is played.
Ostersund have many quality players even if they are unknown, it is probably a matter of time before they leave for bigger clubs in Europe. Striker Saman Ghoddos is the main man with his pace and finishing ability. Ken Sema is a powerful winger with an ability to power through a defense by himself, and the English striker Jamie Hopcutt continues his efficiency. On the midfield you see players who are ball winners, in Fouad Bachirou and Brwa Nouri – both controlled the midfield against Galatasaray exceptionally well.
Ostersunds are 10-3-0 at home in their last couple of competitive fixtures, and their last loss at home came in November 2016, in the last round of Allsvenskan against Gefle, and in fact have only lost twice in the last 12 months on this turf.
Fola Esch finished third in Luxembourg last season, which is why they are now qualifying. Their main threat is striker Samir Hadji who have good size with his 190 centimeter and will be useful for crosses in particular. Their captain at the back is Julian Klein, who has been with the club for 7 seasons and arrived from the French third division. The team is quite experienced at the back, with an average age of 28 years on the defence, with Peter Chrappan leading the way with his 32 years.
There are some locals in the side as well, in midfielder Michel Bechtold and winger Ken Corral. In other words, many foreign players from smaller clubs in Germany and France, that are now playing in Luxembourg. That is the kind of composition the team is made of. Fola did struggle in Baku after suffering a 1-0 loss, but the revenge came at home with a solid 4-1 victory, despite Baku seeing more of the chances and ball – Fola were very efficient.
Coach Jeff Strasser has been with Fola Esch for a very long time, since 2010. He has never won an away game in Europe with his team, as he is 0-2-3 in five away matches in Europe, with goal difference of 9 conceded goals and 2 scored. Obviously, Fola Esch are approaching their away games with the mindset of always being underdogs and do not really get much room to create offensive pressure as visitors.
There are two main factors that will settle this game. The first comes down to Ostersunds passing game, which is very fluid and creative on their artificial turf – of high European quality. The second is the fact that Ostersund have the mindset of a big club and they act accordingly. Galatasaray came to Sweden to visit a club they had never heard of and were taken by surprise over not being able to loan the ball for long moments. Ostersund kept possession and showed technical brilliance to show no respect despite it being a European “giant” in comparison.
Fola Esch will have lesser time to breathe with the ball than Galatasaray had, and will be put under pressure throughout most of the game. I expect a sharp Ostersund again, to continue with their strong home performances and around the 65% possession mark. They are extremely motivated to reach Europa League. A team from Luxembourg should not have much to claim from an away game of this kind, despite their impressive displays versus Baku. On a normal day, Ostersund should put three past Fola and that is why I opt for the -1.5 handicap option for the hosts.