With one of the biggest supporter bases in the country and a trophy cabinet packed full of league titles, Celtic’s Europa League opponents AIK are a long-established force in Sweden. 

Yet while their domestic excellence is beyond doubt, Europe remains a sticking point for the side from Solna, and their rivals never tire of reminding them.

Southerners Malmö happily boast of a 1979 European Cup final appearance against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, as well as recent spells in the Champions League Group Stage. IFK Göteborg, who AIK hate more than most, are the benchmark. 


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Winners of two UEFA Cups in the 1980s, they also boast the best run of any Swedish team in the modern Champions League, topping a group featuring Barcelona and Manchester United to make the quarter-finals in 1994-95.

AIK by contrast have nothing: no European success, not even a commendable run. 

Their last appearance in the Champions League was 19 years ago now, and this summer the Stockholmers botched what looked like a favourable draw in the second qualifying round when they were eliminated by Maribor, despite leading deep into extra time.

To say there is pressure on AIK to salvage some pride in the Europa League this month is an understatement. 

The return leg at the Friends Arena is already on course to break club attendance records for the season, and with defeat against Kalmar last Sunday a set-back for the Stockholmers in their quest to retain the domestic title, the Celtic tie is given even more importance.


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While the Scottish champions will no doubt be delighted by the weight of expectation on the shoulders of their opponents, complacency would be asking for trouble. AIK may lack bottle on the big stage but they don’t lack quality, and their unexpected defeat at the weekend handed coach Rikard Norling with a useful tool to remind his players of what can happen if their concentration slips.

Norling has made it clear that while he respects Celtic, he doesn’t fear them, calling the Scots “a big club but not insurmountable”. That mentality will be key if the Swedes are to have any hope of progression: they have to attack if they are going to succeed. 

His team lack ability at the back and can’t rely on defensive discipline to get them through the tie, but they do have some genuine class in both the midfield and forward line that could trouble Celtic.In the middle of the pitch former Sunderland man Seb Larsson is a familiar name, these days occupying a central role with liberty to get out to the flanks and use his excellent crossing if the space opens up.

Though 34, Larsson stills has the legs to cover a lot of ground, and a solid first touch makes him a difficult player to press. Behind him sits Enoch Kofi Adu, a midfield pivot who was important for Malmö when they put Celtic out at this stage of the Champions League in 2015. The experienced Ghanaian has solid distribution and will be well rested after sitting out the weekend.

The talisman and clear star of the team is striker Henok Goitom.


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A La Liga-quality forward who played for several clubs in Spain including Valladolid, the 34-year-old is a class of player that even Celtic lack at present, but his advancing years mean he has to conserve his energy. 

Goitom relies on quick-thinking to make an impact these days, and his brain is sharper than most. The Solna native likes to drop off the forward line to link up play on the break, and sees openings before most others on the pitch. Including some of this teammates.

The big doubt is who will partner him up front. Norway’s Tarik Elyounoussi is usually first choice but will miss the trip to Glasgow through suspension, so Norling may be forced to risk recent arrival Nabil Bahoui. 

The former Hamburg man hasn’t had a proper pre-season and won’t last a full 90 minutes, but he is the only forward in the squad that comes close to Goitim’s level, and when the two click they could be lethal. Bahoui’s goal against FC Sheriff last week showed the potential of that partnership: an aerial one-two with Goitom finished off powerfully by the newcomer on the half-volley. Give the duo space, and you’re asking to suffer.

For all the creative potential AIK have though, their lacklustre defending lets them down. 

The wingbacks are often exposed by pace when tracking back and the central defenders are too lightweight when contesting 50-50s. If Celtic can suck up pressure and break quickly they will find space to ping diagonal balls into and make the Swedes pay. The question is whether Neil Lennon’s side have the organisation required to pull that off without giving Goitom a chance to shine.