Denmark review Esbjerg fB's collapse left FC København and Brøndby IF to fight it out for the title.
By Peter Bruun
When Esbjerg fB's teasing challenge collapsed a few furlongs shy of the winning post, the title race in Denmark once again became a two-horse race between FC København and Brøndby IF,
Although their failure to sustain their challenge was a disappointment, Ove Pedersen's enterprising Esbjerg were still the most surprising, and welcome, success of the season. Indeed, when they opened the spring season with a stunning 6-1 win at Brøndby it looked as though a first title since 1979 was beckoning.
Four successive defeats just as the season's climax was approaching wrecked these hopes irrecovably though. A final-game 6-1 destruction of BK Frem was a better measure of how far Esbjerg have come - even if it proved too late to help the Superliga's third-placed side qualify for the UEFA Cup.
The outstanding performers in the Esbjerg side were young talents Jan Kristiansen and VfL Bochum 1848-bound Tommy Bechmann, who scored 27 goals between them, as well as veteran Jess Thorup.
When Esbjerg fell out of contention, FCK's greater consistency proved crucial in giving them the edge on Brøndby, who had enjoyed a healthy seven-point lead over their arch-rivals at the winter break. Michael Laudrup's side were admittedly afflicted by a series of long-term injuries, particularly to attacking players, but the failure to invest in a new striker was an error that ended up costing them dear.
League and cup double
On a topsy-turby final day, both Brøndby and FCK won, meaning the latter won the championship by a precious point and completed a 'double' - the Danish Cup having been won just over a week earlier with a 1-0 victory against Aalborg BK at the Parken.
One of the key performers who enabled the champions to retain their crown was 22-year-old attacker Jesper Bech, who sprang from the reserves in mid-season to score some crucial goals - five in all in just seven appearances. A rare two-footed talent, he will be hoping to further establish himself next season.
However the outstanding individual performer of the division was FC Midtjylland's Egyptian talent Mohammed Zidan. Bought from Akademisk Boldklub, he notched a highly impressive 19 goals in 29 appearances, many of them spectacular, and at times such was his skill it appeared he could make the football do anything except talk. Although the 22-year-old remains on Midtjylland's books at present, a move abroad is thought to be imminent.
The new keeper
The season also unearthed a new Danish goalkeeper of international quality in Stephan Andersen. Although the 22-year-old's club AB were relegated his sterling performances in the league, and at U21 level, culminated in a transfer to Charlton Atheltic FC in England and a place in his country's UEFA EURO 2004™ squad.
With the season now over, attention inevitably turns to European club competitions. FCK will yet again try to qualify for the promised land of the UEFA Champions League, while Brøndby and cup runners-up AaB have the UEFA Cup to look forward to.