Fortuna Hjørring coach Flemming Nielsen and playmaker Cathrine Paaske-Sørensen admit FCR 2001 Duisburg are "favourites" but believe the Danish champions can prevail.
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They are in supreme form in Denmark and have sparkled in Europe, but Fortuna Hjørring know that in UEFA Women's Champions League round of 16 opponents FCR 2001 Duisburg they face their greatest challenge yet.
Fortuna, UEFA Women's Cup finalists in 2003, lived in the shadow of Brøndby IF for many years before reclaiming the Danish title in 2009, defending it last season and starting 2010/11 with nine straight wins. On their European comeback last term they began by knocking out CF Bardolino Verona in the last 32 but were then eliminated by Olympique Lyonnais; this time they again accounted for the Italian club with a stunning 14-1 aggregate victory yet have been given another huge test in former European champions Duisburg.
"There is no doubt that Duisburg are favourites, even though they are handicapped by injuries at the moment," Fortuna coach Flemming Nielsen told UEFA.com. "I saw them against Wolfsburg [FCR won 5-1] as well as against Jena [1-0], and they have a really strong team.
"However, we have some experienced players, such as Mariann Gajhede, Heidi Johansen, Cathrine Paaske-Sørensen and Julie Rydahl Bukh, who have done it all in international football, and it is because of the Champions League that we have reinforced our team with players such as Paaske and Bukh. This makes our team considerably stronger than last year, but I would still say that the chances are 70-30 in the favour of Duisburg. The stronger team always gets an extra advantage in a two-legged tie."
Duisburg are at home in Wednesday's first leg but 32-year-old midfielder Paaske-Sørensen, who scored seven goals against Bardolino, is optimistic. "There is no doubt that Duisburg are favourites, but they have some players out with injuries and they have suffered some defeats in the German league, so this is probably the best possible time to meet them," the summer signing from American side Pali Blues said.
The playmaker has extra incentive after Denmark's surprise elimination in 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying by Switzerland, meaning they will be absent from their first major tournament since 2003. "The fact we missed out on the World Cup is still hanging over us like a big dark cloud, and there is no doubt that European success would remove a bit of the disappointment," Paaske-Sørensen said.
However, a doubt remains about whether the former Brøndby stalwart and veteran of more than 100 caps would still be available should Fortuna make it to the quarter-finals in the spring. "My current contract with Fortuna expires on 31 December and at the moment I do not know what is going to happen after that," Paaske-Sørensen explained. "I have reached an age where I may want other things in life than playing football, so maybe I will end my career, but I have not decided yet. I will make up my mind before the new year."