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The Champions League is BACK - Can the Underdogs SURPRISE?

4 minute read Published February 13, 2024

After a long winter break, the Champions League is back! The knockouts start today and it’s mainly the usual suspects that will be fighting it out. A few teams are punching above their weight though. Both Real Sociedad and Copenhagen have made it through. The two underdogs have only made it to the knockouts once before, Copenhagen in 2010/2011 and Real Sociedad way back in 2003/2004.

And, as faith would have it, the underdogs will be playing everybody's favourite villains – PSG and Manchester City. The two oil clubs with their infinite resources and questionable (115 questions) business tactics versus the punchers above their weights. The finalists from two years ago and the reigning champions versus the second timers.

The state backed clubs will both walk out on the field as heavy favourites. And they will most likely win it. But maybe, just maybe, this is the perfect setup for an underdog.

The Danish Talent Factory

Known for having one of the most intense stadium experiences in Europe, Copenhagen is starting to become more of a regular fixture in the Champions League. In the 00s the Danish team only made it all the way past the qualifiers once, in the 2010s they made it to the group stages three times, reaching the knockouts once.

FC Copenhagen are the biggest team in Denmark and known to produce some of the best talent in the Nordics. Since Malmö is just a 30 minute drive from the Danish capital, a lot of Swedish talent chooses Copenhagen, rather than Malmö FF. For example, one of the most scouted talents at the moment, Roony Bardghji, was poached from Malmö FF by Copenhagen. If you play Football Manager, you’ll definitely know his name.

Rising star Rasmus Højlund also came through their academy. FC Copenhagen currently play the younger Højlund brothers, 19 year old twins Oskar and Emil, regularly. However, while a lot of talent comes through the team, they do balance out the squad with older, more experienced players to give the team a solid base. The average age of the starting line up is pretty high.

Rasmus Højlund playing at Atalanta.

Copenhagen’s season so far

In the 21st century, FC Copenhagen have been very dominant in Denmark, winning the league 14 times. This season they’ve been struggling a bit in the league and currently sit 3rd. In the Champions League, however, they managed to make it through to the knockouts. The draw – reigning champions Manchester City.

In the group stages, Copenhagen barely scraped by, helped by a very out of form Manchester United. They only made it through to the knockouts in the last game of the group stage. In that game, however, they ended one of the longest winning streaks in European football history - Bayerns 18 straight wins in Champions League group stages. This shows the Danish underdogs really do have the quality to rattle the big teams. They also won against Manchester United at home but… I mean…

David vs Goliath

Meanwhile, their opposition lost a lot of good players this summer, most importantly Ilkay Gundogan and were struggling because of it but have turned around a, for them, mediocre start to the season. Manchester City have won five in a row, Kevin De Bruyne is back in the team and Haaland has started scoring for fun again. Of course, Rodri is there.

While the winning streak looks good, if you watched the game against Everton this weekend, you’ll know that they aren't in their most dominant form at the moment. 2-0 was a good result, but the performance wasn’t great. The two goals came late in the game and, despite 73% possession, they only managed three shots on goal. The first goal came from a corner and the second from an unfortunate mistake. On another day, it could have ended 0-0.

Parken, FC Copenhagen’s home ground is also a very tough away day. The crowd is loud and very close to the field. In the group stage, they won against Galatasaray and in the game against Manchester United, they came back twice, first from 0-2 down, then from 2-3 to win the game 4-3. Just check out this video from Nordic Stadiums to get a feel for the place.

Parken Stadium in Copenhagen during Copenhagen vs Atletico Madrid in the Europa League

Everybody loves an underdog, they usually have the neutrals behind them. Especially if the opponent is Manchester City or PSG, which is who FC Copenhagen and Real Sociedad will take on, respectively.

Will they win it? Probably not. Manchester City may be favourites at the bookies, but Copenhagen surely are the favourites for the neutrals.

FC Copenhagen play Manchester City tonight, Real Sociedad play PSG tomorrow – let’s go underdogs!

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