Wednesday 29 March 2017

Copenhagen's confidence soaring in bid to upset the odds

Sam Wallace

Fernando Torres' wait for his first Chelsea goal continues against FC Copenhagen tonight when the defender tasked with stopping the £50m striker will be a Swedish international who almost had to quit the game because of a heart condition.

Mikael Antonsson's story has echoes of that of his manager at FC Copenhagen, the Norwegian Stale Solbakken, formerly of Wimbledon, who was also diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart problem. While Solbakken, who collapsed on the pitch with a heart attack when playing for Copenhagen 10 years ago, had to give up the game, Antonsson has been able to continue playing.

He marked Lionel Messi in both games FC Copenhagen played against Barcelona in the group stages and now finds himself up against another of Europe's leading strikers. Antonsson (29) has played for four years without problems after a series of operations to resolve a heart rate that would not slow when he rested.

Antonsson is just another success story in FC Copenhagen's rise to power. They are 19 points clear at the top of the league at the halfway point of the season and are cruising to a seventh league title in nine years. Owned by the same company that owns the club's Parken Stadium and that runs a successful holiday business, they have become so powerful that now they buy the best players in the region.

It is surely for that reason Roman Abramovich's son, Arcady, was reported to have had an interest in investing in the club, which was subsequently denied by his legal team. Yesterday, Solbakken said that some of his players were "daft" enough to think they could win the game. "Some of my players are so sure they think they're a better side than Chelsea now," he said. "Some have only lost one or two games in this side, so they think it's easy. Confidence is very high."

In the Brazilian Claudemir (22) signed from the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, Copenhagen have the player regarded as the best in the Danish league. Their Senegalese striker Dame M'Doye and his strike partner Cesar Santin, another Brazilian, are also highly regarded. Their winger Christian Bolanos is from Costa Rica.

The problem for FC Copenhagen is that the long winter break in the Danish league began on December 4. They last played a competitive game on December 7, when they beat Panathinaikos 3-1 in their final Champions League group game.

In Copenhagen they have been talking about this tie and scouting Chelsea for almost two months. "It's better to meet them now than in September, but their results are weaker than their performances. They haven't been that bad. But they haven't been scary, either," Solbakken said. (© Independent News Service)

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