For the first time in five years Danish fans can look forward to their nation being represented in UEFA club competition in spring. And unlike in 2004, when Brøndby IF were the sole flag-bearers in a 3-1 aggregate UEFA Cup loss to FC Barcelona, both Aalborg BK and FC København are preparing for the knockout stages.
Having transferred from the UEFA Champions League after finishing third in their group, AaB are up against RC Deportivo La Coruña in the UEFA Cup Round of 32 on 18 and 26 February, while København kick off their tie with big-spending Manchester City FC at home next Thursday. And although they are facing clubs from Europe's two top-ranked leagues, both sides are optimistic they can make further progress.
Among those in an upbeat frame of mind is AaB defender Kjetil Wæhler, newly-signed from Norway's Vålerenga IF. "The game is much faster here than it was in Vålerenga, and AaB play fantastic attacking football with a lot of combinations," Wæhler said. "I think we have a really good chance of defeating Deportivo." Wæhler could make his competitive debut against Deportivo as fellow defender Steve Olfers has to undergo surgery on a stomach injury. Midfielder Kasper Risgård is hoping to overcome the knee problems that have disrupted his winter training.
A man who has spent eight months on the sidelines with a knee injury, Jesper Grønkjær, could make a return for FCK against Manchester City, a team he enjoyed 1-0 home victories against for both Chelsea FC and Birmingham City FC during his time in England. "It is unrealistic to think that I can play 90 minutes yet, but if I can continue my progress it's realistic to believe that I can come in and play a part," the former Danish international said. They can take hope from the performance of league rivals FC Midtjylland against City in the second qualifying round, winning 1-0 away, only to lose by the same score in the home leg to a last-minute own goal and be pipped on penalties.
With the Danish league not resuming until March, both sides have been preparing in warmer climes. FCK, who trail leaders Brøndby IF by two points, have been in Spain and among their friendly results was a 1-0 defeat of FC Dynamo Moskva. Reigning champions AaB relocated to Turkey and beat FC Steaua Bucureşti by the same scoreline.
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