By Robert Forsaith
FC Copenhagen made history on Tuesday night when they became the first Danish club to qualify for the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League.
That in itself is an achievement worthy of some praise. Qualification for Danish sides has never been the rite of passage that other leagues enjoy. To further rally against the odds and make it to the Round of 16 is remarkable.
The fact they sealed the deal with a thumping 3-1 win over Greek outfit Panathinaikos (a club with little to play for, but a club with a handy roster nonetheless) was impressive. There was no need to rely on Barcelona’s expected, but not guaranteed, drubbing of Rubin Kazan.
The challenge now becomes ensuring the side does not waste the unexpected opportunity it has fought so hard for. Copenhagen has made a definite statement already, but it will amount to little if they are simply making the numbers up in the Round of 16.
The Danish Superliga will never command the same international attention as its bigger brothers in Europe, simply because it’s not of the same standard. Football may be the nation’s passion, but it does not bring in the sort of foreign capital and foreign talent compared to the continent’s top leagues.
Changing this is an immensely difficult process, but there’s a good argument the Lions’ stunning Champions League campaign is the first step. It has been well noted in the press that a certain Arkady Abramovich (son of Roman) has taken a keen interest in the club.
Abramovich is understood to be eyeing off a 30 percent share in the side. Some local press believe an announcement is imminent. Was his interest pricked by a series of sterling performances? Perhaps.
The club’s increased profile is also notable on the pitch. Left-back Oscar Wendt has been touted a potential target for Tottenham and Liverpool, while guns Dame N’Doye and Martin Vingaard are also reportedly being courted by various suitors. These men have the opportunity to leave prior to the Round of 16 clashes.
Their departure would hurt the club’s pursuit of an unthinkable upset and quarter-final berth. Despite the euphoria sweeping the city, most locals are wise enough to know that an expectation of positive results against the likes of Real Madrid (or whichever super power they draw) is foolish. The gap between the two sides will be immense.
Although it must be said the club was not completely outclassed by Barcelona when David and Goliath battled in the two pool clashes. Copenhagen even managed to snag a draw at home against the Spanish giants, who are hot favourites to take the title.
Things will be even trickier this time around.
The Superliga season finished last week. The squad won’t have a competitive hit-out prior to what undoubtedly is the club’s most historic and important match. Match fitness is likely to be an issue, while recruits won’t have a chance to gel with the existing players. You can understand why bookmakers have them ranked 16th in betting for the title.
Nonetheless, Copenhagen has a supporter in Panathinaikos manager Jesualdo Ferreira – a man who has been coaching for almost 30 years.
Having watched Copenhagen’s stoic defence and productive ball movement get the better of his side, Ferreira was not about to dismiss their chances in the knockout stage.
“Copenhagen will now have to fight against one of the big clubs….(and) I think Copenhagen has a chance. The first game is at home, but the second game will be away, against Real Madrid, or Chelsea, or Manchester United and so on – it won’t be easy,” he said.
“We don’t know what can happen. A lot of things can happen when two teams take the park.”
No matter what the results are, Ferreira knows all too well the benefits Copenhagen will reap.
“It’s very important that they have the chance to play in the two matches and play against a really strong team.”
“They’ll take more experience from it and clubs become stronger when they’re playing Champions League football.”