FC København are celebrating today after a "fantastic" victory in Amsterdam made them only the third Danish team to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage since it was introduced in 1992/93.
The Superligaen champions had looked down and out after a 2-1 home defeat by AFC Ajax a fortnight ago but came back strongly to win 2-0 away last night for a 3-2 aggregate success. "This is a dream come true," said chairman Flemming Østergaard. "I am very emotional. We were missing several regulars, but everyone fought for the victory and made a heroic effort. This is fantastic for FC København and for Danish football. Everyone knows what it means financially to be in the group stage, but tonight I have not thought of the financial aspect for one second. It is the football that is important right now."
København coach Ståle Solbakken paid tribute to his players, who kept their nerve in the first half before prevailing through Michael Silberbauer's strike and an own goal by Thomas Vermaelen. "We have been working hard on our 4-1-4-1 formation and I actually think we managed to put Ajax to sleep," Solbakken said. "We were lucky in the first half, but after the break I think we were the better team. Our goal in the group stage will be to gain experience but, of course, to win matches and get as many points as possible."
One of few København players with UEFA Champions League pedigree, goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen, summed up what qualification meant. "We kept believing in our project. We were lucky before half-time, but after that we played a brilliant second half. This is the highest you can get. I have played in the Champions League group stage with Rangers [FC] but had never had to qualify before. Over the two matches, I think we showed the necessary quality to compete."
The mood in the Ajax camp provided a marked contrast. Their new coach Henk ten Cate experienced the highs of the UEFA Champions League last season as assistant to Frank Rijkaard at FC Barcelona. "This is very sad," he said. "To experience the group stage of the Champions League would have been invaluable for our young team. We had five good chances, they had none. We fell behind because of an individual error. After that, a few players lost their heads instead of keeping organised. We had not thought for one second that this could happen to us."
København will follow in the footsteps of Aalborg BK and Brøndby IF. AaB participated in the 1995/96 UEFA Champions League, and despite registering a 2-1 win against Panathinaikos FC and a 2-2 draw with FC Porto, finished bottom of their group with four defeats. Brøndby achieved just one victory, a 2-1 home success over eventual finalists FC Bayern Munchen - against five defeats - in the 1998/99 edition. It was a tough section also featuring Manchester United FC, who went on to lift the trophy, and FC Barcelona. København have been warned, but such worries are for another day.
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