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Jesper Grønkjær was sat in a cafe on holiday when a phone call informed him that FC København had been matched with his old club Chelsea FC in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 – and the winger is under no illusion about the challenge his team face.
FCK became the first Danish side to reach the knockout phase when they beat Panathinaikos FC 3-1 in their last group fixture, and Tuesday's home first leg will be their first competitive match since that December success due to their domestic winter break. Grønkjær, a Chelsea player between 2000 and 2004 and still fondly remembered at Stamford Bridge, had mixed feelings when the draw was made.
"I knew that Chelsea were among the teams that we could draw and it would be something special to play against them again, to go back to the Bridge – but I have to admit that it's not the best draw," the 33-year-old said.
Chelsea were probably the team we did not want to play against because they play very physically. Obviously their squad is full of fantastic players and they play slightly the same way we do. So it's going to be a hard, physical game but luckily for us we're playing at home first. In our stadium, with the crowd behind us, we can get a result."
That said, Grønkjær is not taking comfort from Chelsea's recent mixed results. "We all know that they have had a dip in form but they still have a good team," he said. "What we also know is that [Roman] Abramovich really wants to win the Champions League and as they've been drawn against us, the odds are that you think they've got an easy draw."
But the former Danish international, who joined FCK in 2006 and has helped them to three league titles in the last four years, points to his own team's impressive group performances, where they finished above FC Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos as well as holding FC Barcelona in Copenhagen. "We know at home we can get good results in front of an enthusiastic crowd," Grønkjær said.
"We've done well at home, we've also shown now that away from home we can also get results. But we know we're playing against a higher level of opposition now. It's going to be hard for us, we have had the winter break and haven't played any important games since the Panathinaikos game on 7 December – Chelsea have probably played 15."
Still, the game has brought back memories of Grønkjær's time in west London. "It was a dream come true going to England – as a Danish player, like all Scandinavian boys, we all watched the Premier League on Saturdays in Denmark so everyone wants to go to the Premier League," he said.
"Already at that time [Chelsea] were known for bringing in a lot of international players and were, if not the first, then one of the first who brought in so many players from the continent. It was a nice feeling but at that time I was younger, did not think about it that much. I had not experienced a lot but I'm a different person now you can say. It was a great time."
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