For many this season FC Copenhagen were an unknown quantity, most observers from outside of Denmark knew little about them or how they would fair. The majority of the football world having seen their Champions League group would have expected them to at best make it only to the Europa League. A group containing Barcelona, Rubin Kazan (Russian champions) and Panathinaikos (Greek champions), looked a hard one for Copenhagen to get out of. Copenhagen have no great stars unlike the other three teams, they have a fairly small transfer budget and have never previously got past the group-stages.
Perhaps though the fact not many people gave them a hope as Barcelona and Rubin were favourites allowed them to go about their business quietly without unwanted pressure. They started their campaign with a late win against Rubin at the home. A close game which gave them a great start to the group stage, it must be remembered that they beat Manchester United in the 2006/07 Champions League however finished that season at the bottom of their group. This year they have had to play Barcelona back-to-back and did not at all look overawed by the occasion either time. At Parken, their home ground they were worthy of their 1-1 draw and should have been playing against ten men when Valdes came racing out to make a clearance and got nothing on the ball. He instead smashed Dame N’Doye in the face with his right leg. A challenge which was incredibly given as a foul against N’Doye one of the strangest decisions ever to be made. Quick thinking Jesper Gronkjaer rushed over to see if his team mate had swallowed his tongue as he had been knocked out by the impact. A few seconds later he thankfully regained consciousness. It recalled Harold Schumacher’s unpunished attack on Patrick Battiston. Barcelona seemed to underestimate their opponents who even at the Nou Camp only conceded two, the first being a magnificent long-range Messi effort similar to one against Arsenal last season. The second goal was fairly scrappy by Barca’s standards, an Abidal cross which bounced up and down a few times and finally reached Messi who finished with ease. Whilst the score was 1-0 N’Doye produced a moment of sheer beauty when in one movement he controlled a long ball and turned Carles Puyol and crashed a volley against the bar. It was a moment which if it had gone in and been scored by Dennis Bergkamp, we’d all be talking about for years to come. Cesar Santin his fellow strike partner then failed to head the rebound in the open goal. Another huge chance fell to Cesar Santin when he was sent through on goal in the left channel, the Barcelona reserve keeper Pinto whistled and Santin naturally presumed it was the referee blowing for an offside. But no, Pinto was suspended for two games. After the incident Pinto was seen gloating on camera, had Santin not been put-off he would have been through on goal when Copenhagen were losing by only one goal. Although it was unlikely that FCK would have beaten FCB or even gained a point the chance was there.
The main men
So this season the forward pairing has either been Santin and N’Doye or N’Doye with Jesper Gronkjaer just behind. The latter choice has been more favourable to manager Stale Solbakken in the Champions League. But often Santin has been brought on to change things up and give the elder Gronkjaer a rest. Santin who was bought from Swedish side Kalmar FF in 2008 has steadily scored for the last few seasons before exploding this season with 13 goals in 16 appearances. He can play anywhere in an attacking position, often he tends to drift about when played upfront with N’Doye. He’s currently linked with a move to Galatasaray, if Turkish websites are to be believed, which would be detrimental to Copenhagen’s so far brilliant season. Dame N’Doye too is being linked with other clubs including an array of English teams. Since his move from OFI Crete two seasons ago he has been a revelation, in his first season he managed only 2 in 11 appearances but this season he rapidly established himself with 13 in 18. A player who possesses a great finish and quick feet, N’Doye has after many years at different European teams come it seems to fruition. Another notable player is midfielder Martin Vingaard, a Danish international who has a good goal scoring record and has provided some telling crosses so far this season, he was the architect behind Dame N‘Doye‘s 86th minute header which won them their opening game of the Champions League this season.
The next step
Copenhagen have been drawn a tough second-round tie against Chelsea. As underdogs they will not be expected to beat Chelsea, but as their Champions League exploits have demonstrated so far they will benefit from the lack of expectation. Their manager Solbakken said about the tie “We have not been beaten at home in the Champions League and we have played Barcelona and Manchester United” so they will not be afraid of the task in hand, or at least one of the tasks. With the first-leg in Denmark they must put simply use their intimidating home stadium to gain an advantage as I don’t imagine them outscoring Chelsea in London. The major problem is the break in the Danish season which will mean Copenhagen will not have played a competitive game since their final group game on 7th December. What it will give them however is an extra long period to prepare tactically and study Chelsea. Still it would be an incredible surprise if they made it to the quarter-finals. Whatever does happen, from here on in it’s all new ground for FCK and all in the Stemningstribunen (Atmosphere stand)
Harry Bronsdon, A Random Ball