Wednesday, June 30, 2021

What I think and what I wish for

So we now have the four quarterfinals after some really exciting last-16 eliminations, and after these I feel more confident to make some predictions, although in these knock-out matches anything can happen, and it has been reaffirmed that there are no bad teams in this tournament. 

On a good day everyone can beat anyone.

And there is certainly also a difference on what I think will happen and what I wish for. So here come my predictions for the quarterfinals:

  • Spain-Switzerland: both teams come from two extraordinary knock-out matches, but I would not expect another epic drama; Spain are enormous favourites and must be delighted that they will not be facing France. At the same time Switzerland are surely hoping for more, and will be playing without pressure, but they will be facing a Spanish side hungering for success and with a lot of talent. I think it is 99% sure that Spain will make a semifinal, although I hope that the little guy can beat the big guy again, and Switzerland pull another surprise.
  • England-Ucraine: England defeated a poor German side, but nobody has scored against them, and they are looking more and more like having the cold-blooded confidence to go all the way. Ucraine in the meantime are there through a combination of luck and fight, but not exciting play. They defeated the most boring team of the tournament, Sweden, 2-1 after extra time, in one of the most boring matches of the tournament, and thus deserve to be where they are, but they are almost sure to get no further. On the more personal level it hurts to admit that I would rather see England in the semifinal, because I think it would be good for the tournament.
  • Denmark-Czech Republic: In my unashamed subjectivity I hope that Denmark will win and make it to the semifinal. But I am concerned at how happy the Danes are not to be facing the Dutch when the Czechs actually showed themselves a much better team that the Dutch. Football teams are more than the sum of their individual players, and both Denmark and the Czechs have shown that, but I think that the Czechs have an upper-hand, because I think that they are more cold-blooded and will enter the match better-prepared than the Danes. I think the Czechs will win, but I hope the Danes will.
  • Belgium-Italy: In some ways this is a moral final between two of the best sides of the tournament, but they have also been shaky at times, and certainly don't appear invincible. Belgium struggled to defeat Portugal (and were indeed a bit lucky) and with some injuries appears to be vulnerable to the Italians. The Italians also struggled to defeat Austria, but they prevailed with their heads level and made it to the next round. I therefore think that Italy is slightly more likely to prevail (60-40), but I certainly support Belgium wholeheartedly!

So if we take how I think it will go, these will be the semifinals:

  • England-Czech Republic
  • Italy-Spain

In this scenario I predict a final between England and Spain.

But in my hopeful scenario these would be the semifinals:

  • England-Denmark
  • Belgium-Switzerland
And hopefully a final between my two favourite teams in the tournament, Denmark and Belgium (with Denmark taking the title!)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Exhaustion from so much excitement!

The two last-16 matches in the European Championship today were two incredible matches that left me exhausted after such rides of drama, goals and emotion! But this is truly what football is all about!

Spain had to fight unusually hard to defeat Croatia in what frankly should have been a relatively easy game for Spain against a Croatian side that still wins morally by the mere fact of their never-ending fight. Unai Simon's own goal was the single most comical moment of the entire tournament (and congratulations to the goalkeeper for rising up to the challenge and having some great saves afterwards), and put Croatia ahead when everyone was expecting Spain to score the first goal. That said, when the Spaniards finally managed to score by Pablo Sarabia, they were in complete control, and we all thought that the match was over after Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres made it 2-1 and 3-1 respectively.

But Croatia never gives up, and they managed to score two late goals by Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic to take the game into extra time.

In extra time, after Alvaro Morata made it 4-3 for Spain following some dreadful Croatian marking, the game was nevertheless over, and when Mikel Oyarzabal made it 5-3, the tired but brave Croatian had little energy left to mount a comeback.

Spain are in the quarterfinals, and very likely semifinalists, as Switzerland, whom they will face (and probably defeat) in the quarterfinals did them the favour of eliminating France in another exciting match.

Switzerland took an early lead by Haris Seferovic, the Benfica  striker, and they took their lead to halftime. France mounted a feeble pressure early in the second half, until Switzerland were given a penalty, that could have given them a decisive lead, but Hugo Lloris saved Ricardo Rodriguez penalty kick. After that France were like another team, and Karim Benzema put them ahead with two quick goals, before Paul Pogba made it 3-1 on a spectacular strike.

By this time France were in total control, and it seemed unlikely that the Swiss could make a comeback, but alas, they did: Seferovic made it 3-2 on another header where the French central defenders (Rafael Varane and Clement Leglet) looked very poor, and in the dying second Mario Gavranovic made it 3-3 on an excellent strike that also exposed a slow French central defense.

The French appeared defeated even when they were up 3-2, and despite some chances in extra time we all had the feeling that the Swiss would pull the surprise in penalty kicks (and the Swiss seemed very happy when it went to penalty kicks). There were some great kicks by both sides until it came down to the last kicker: Kylian Mbappe, who had played a very poor match to say the least, and the youngster crowned it by having his penalty saved by Yann Sommer, and putting Switzerland in the quarterfinals.

Kylian Mbappe is only 23, and I hope he can overcome this. That will define him as a great player, or merely another good youngster.

The World Champions are out, and Switzerland have made it further that even they had dared dream (and in all likelihood as far as they will make it).

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The underrated Czechs

I had been hoping that Netherlands and Denmark would face one another in the quarterfinals for no other reason to see some of the best fans in the world competing in beer drinking.

But it is not to be. Instead Denmark will be facing the unpredictable Czechs, who played a fantastic match against the Dutch, who have every reason to be disappointed after their excellent first round. The Czechs were extremely well-organized, and in the second half managed to completely close down the Netherlands, for whom Matthijs de Ligt red card proved crucial: the young Juventus player had been extraordinary in defense, and his absence left a huge hole in the Dutch defense which the Czechs fully exploited with goals by Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick.

After watching the Czechs today I think that they are a much more difficult adversary for Denmark than the Netherlands would have been, but I doubt that we will see a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarterfinals when the Czechs walked over an overrated Danish side. This is a better and more united Danish team than back then, and surely have a chance to defeat the Czechs, but would be extremely wrong in underestimating them!

The first two quarterfinalists

Denmark destroyed Wales 4-0; the the first time in European Championships that a team has won two games in a row with at least 4 goals, so that underlines the wave that the Danish team is riding on, and they appear to have reason to be (carefully) optimistic about the quarterfinal, where they will face either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic. I am saying carefully because, despite it all, Denmark has some weaknesses that stronger teams can exploit. Wales started the match well, but when they went behind on a goal by Kasper Dolberg, they had nothing to offer; that will not be the case for any team that Denmark will face in the quarterfinals.

That said, the Danes in the quarterfinals is proof of enormous mental strength in a team that has been on an emotional rollercoaster over the last two weeks.

Italy won 2-1 against Austria after extra time. After the first round Italy was rightly touted as perhaps the strongest team of the tournament, but today they looked weaker against a well-organised Austrian side who with a bit of luck and better technique could have won against the long-undefeated Italians. At the score 0-0 the game had to go into extra time, where the Italians went ahead 2-0 on goals by Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina. That said, the Austrians scored the first goal against Italy in 11 matches when Sasa Kalajdzic pulled one back, and did give a bit of excitement to the last minutes of the match.

Italy will face the winner of Portugal-Belgium. Despite them not winning as overwhelmingly today, the Italians should still be considered favourites, specially because they can keep their heads cold in a match like this one. In my view Italy are still one of the favourites to take the title.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Colombian indignation

 I watched an interesting match in the Copa America between Colombia and Brazil yesterday. Colombia was in need of a result after losing to Peru and tying Venezuela, while the home-team of Brazil was just expecting to continue their unbeaten run towards the title.

The Colombians were far better organized and concentrated than in previous games and went ahead 1-0 on a spectacular half- bicycle kick by the Porto player, Luis Diaz. Brazil had most possession, and some chances (among them a shot on the post by Neymar), but the Colombians seemed in control, until 10 minutes before the end of the match.

It was a strange situation. A Brazilian pass bumped into the referee, and the ball went to another Brazilian, who played the ball wide, and the cross into the area went to Roberto Firminho, who headed weakly, but past a compliant Ospina in the Colombian goal, who should surely have blocked.

The massive protest from the Colombians were because the play should not have continued when the referee unwittingly passed blocked the ball. The referee and VAR disagreed and awarded the goal.

In my view the goal was ok; the referee is a bump on the pitch, and him unwittingly hitting the ball can go both ways. However, there is little consistency in the rule, and in particular during the Euro 2021 we have seen many referees stop play in such situations.

The protests meant 12 minutes of injury time, and in the dying seconds the Brazilians scored their long awaited winner after a corner kick that found a completely unmarked Casemiro to head Brazil into victory. The Colombians can only blame themselves for such poor defending, but it is understandable that they are angry about the first goal. That said, they showed they are still strong, and should focus on that.

The usual suspects

Before the tournament Group F had been dubbed the "Group of Death", with Germany, Portugal and France, and then Hungary as an attachment. In the end Hungary proved the greatest team of the group, and it is a pity that they did not make it through, fighting bravely against the Germans in Munich, but only making it to 2-2 after being ahead twice.

It was exciting, and one was almost hoping for a repeat of the legendary 1954 World Cup final, but this time with Hungary coming out on top.

In the end it was "the usual suspects that made it through".

Germany end up in second spot in the group, and will be facing England at Wembley stadium in one of the most classic matches in modern football. This time though, England will look like favourites, as the Germans have looked shaky, and the English have the best opportunity show themselves from the best sides.

Just never underestimate the Germans like they underestimate others.

The defending world champions of France have not looked impressive either, although they are still favourites to go the whole way, specially because they are pacing themselves. A 2-2 score against was enough for them to win Group F and they will now be facing Switzerland in the last-16; the Helvetians are never easy to play against, but France should be expected to make it through. Karim Benzema scored both goals for France against Portugal, and his experience and skills may be paying off for the French.

Portugal is through on third spot in Group F; same as in 2016, and then went on to win the whole thing. The Portuguese look shaky in defense, as they did against Germany, but they have fantastic individual talent, crowned by the great Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo scored both goals for Portugal against France (on two correct penalties) and he has equaled Ali Daei, the legendary Iranian striker, as the most prolific national team goalscorer of all time, and it appears likely that he will be the most scoring ever, and add another record to his legend.

It will not be easy in the quarterfinals though, as Portugal will face the fantastic Belgians. That said, the Portuguese are confident that they can defeat anyone on a good day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Sweden and Spain through

 Sweden without Ibrahimovic is a solid albeit not entertaining team, and they have shown it by winning Group E ahead of Spain, and in the last match against Poland in a dramatic way. Poland had to win to make it through, but went down 0-2 on two goals by Emil Forsberg before making a heroic comeback through two goals by the great Robert Lewandowski and the hope of a victory, but in injury time Viktor Claessen scored the winner for Sweden that put them in the first spot ahead of Spain. 

Spain had been hoping to take the first spot when cruising over Slovakia by a 5-0 victory. Spain finally managed to show some efficiency in front of goal, although it was against a Slovakian team that showed one of the poorest performances in the tournament, and they deserve to be out.

Sweden will be facing Ukraine in the last-16, while Spain will be going to Copenhagen to face Croatia. Sweden will be big favourites against the Ukranians, who just made it through on a third place, while Spain and Croatia will surely be a clash between two teams that have yet to show their best sides.

England through

England entered the tournament as one of the favourites, and have proceeded to win their group D today after defeating the Czech Republic 1-0 on a first half header by Raheem Sterling. England thus go through with seven points and a score of 2-0. In their last-16 match England will face the runner-ups of Group F (France, Germany, Portugal, or even Hungary, who could defeat Germany, and with France beating Portugal, could become runner-ups, as unlikely as it may appear), and will thus face a quality team. England have not looked like a world-beating team in the first round, but that makes them, in my view, more likely to succeed: a winning team needs to pace itself to the knock-out matches, and that may be what England needs to do to make it all the way. No matter who they face, it will be an exciting match with England playing at home.

Croatia made it as runner-ups with a 3-1 victory over Scotland. While not looking as good as they did in Russia, Croatia is a team that, on a good day, can beat any team in the world. After a solid start the Czechs only took the third spot. In the match against England it was a bit disappointing that they did not try harder to go for a goal and become group winners, but they appear satisfied to just make it beyond the group stages. I doubt that the Czechs will make it any further, and their memory from the tournament is likely to be Patrick Schick's spectacular 2-0 goal against Scotland.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Danish Delight

It is great to be wrong, and I was wrong about the end result in group B, where I had thought the two final matches between Belgium and Finland, and Russia and Denmark, respectively, would end 0-0.

For a long time the Belgians appeared unable to open the Finnish lock that would have put the Nordics through in their first tournament ever. In the end it is a pity for Finland, but they lacked the luck when their goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky pushed a rebound into goal. And when the great Romelu Lukaku made it 2-0 for the Belgians there was little the Finns could do.

The Belgians win the group with three victories, and although they have not been spectacular, they confirm that they can go all the way.

At the same time in Copenhagen Denmark started a bit nervously against Russia, who had a big chance to go ahead. But after the young Mikkel Damsgaard scored a spectacular goal to put Denmark ahead, the Danes were in control. Russia was forced forward and this gave the Danes the space they had lacked in the first half, but it was only a gift from a Russia defender, who passed the ball to an unmarked Youssuff Poulsen in fron of goal, that Denmark scored for 2-0. Despite Andrem Dzyuba scoring on a penalty for the Russians, Denmark were in control, and great goals by Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle put the Danes in the unlikely second spot in the group.

Finally the Danes improved their scoring statistics, which had been dreadful after the first two matches, but most of all, the victory was an emotional tribute to Christian Eriksen, who is doing well and must have been as delighted as every Danish fan about the result.

Denmark will face Wales in the last-16, and while they have to play up to their best, Denmark surely has a chance to make it to the quarterfinals.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Group A results

Group A has finished in the Euro 2021, and Italy won the group in style with three victories and a score of 7-0. After their first two 3-0 victories against Turkey and Switzerland respectively Roberto Mancini had decided to rest many players against Wales, and although the Welsh did get some good chances, the Italians always seemed comfortable with their 1-0 victory, and continued to their 30th unbeaten match.

Italy will face the runner-up in group C: either Austria or Ukraine, who are indeed facing one another in a mini final to decide who faces the Italians in London, in match were the Italians will be huge favourites to make it to the quarterfinals.

Wales ended up runner-up in the group ahead of the Swiss on better goal difference, and will be looking to play the runner-ups in group B (probably Finland or Russia) and a repeat of their successful 2016 campaign. In the meantime Switzerland must await the results of other group to see whether they go through on this spot. 

Turkey is going home after three defeats in one of the most disappointing performances of the tournament.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

First in a long time

Yesterday I went out to watch football. Not at the stadium, but in a bar. This was the first time in almost 18 months that I did this, so it felt special; a small step towards the normality that we all eagerly await.

With limited TV channels offering the Euros in San Salvador, it was not easy to find a good sports bar, but I found Punto Marino Sport in the upmarket neighborhood of San Benito. Despite the name it is not really a sports bar, and I was the only person there watching football, while reggaeton music played in the background.

I nevertheless enjoyed it. First I watch England-Scotland in what was predictably a spirited fight by the Scotsmen, who largely deserved the victory, against an English side that hardly lived up to its enormous expectations. 0-0 was a fair result, and now England will play a thrilling match against the Czech Republic, who defeated Scotland 2-0, and who are looking strong. Scotland will face Croatia, and it is interesting that all teams in that group have something to play for.

I next watched the Copa America. Chile defeated Bolivia 1-0. I have been watching many Copa America matches, but I must admit that it lacks excitement and passion. The empty stadiums mean that the matches are like a party without music, and most games have been defensive and few goals. In its 0-0 tie with Colombia, Venezuela basically refused to attack, and Brazil's matches have been kind of one-sided.

The tournament should probably have been cancelled. It is nearly impossible to get excited about it (although a few beers help!).


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Disappointed Denmark

It was with big expectations that Denmark went into the European Championships, but after two defeats Denmark is almost out of the tournament.

It is a pity, as Denmark have been extremely unlucky, even beyond the horrible thing that happened to Eriksen in the match against Finland. Denmark was the better side but lost 0-1 in Finland's only attack, and today Denmark was also unlucky, but against the best team in the world, Belgium.

Denmark were by far the better team in the first half, but was only ahead by one goal after Yussuf Poulsen's early strike. Kevin De Bruyne came on in the second half for Belgium, and the Belgians managed to put pressure on a Danish side that was nevertheless still fighting with spirit. But this was not enough against the quality of the Belgians when the speed of Romelu Lukaku and the genious of De Bruyne combined to serve the ball for Thorgan Hazzard and an equalizer.

1-1 was a good result in a match that already before the tournament was expected to be difficult, but given Denmark's many attacks it felt like a disappointment, and when Kevin De Bruyne scored what would become the winner for Belgium, it surely became a disappointment. Denmark continued attacking, but to no avail.

The Danes can be proud of the quality and spirit they put into the match, but in the end what wins matches are goals, and unfortunately the Danes are very inefficient in front of goal (something that was also the case against Finland). To have any chance of progressing Denmark must defeat Russia (and given how poor they are at scoring, this would not appear likely) and at the same time hope that Belgium defeats Finland in a match where Belgium has nothing to play for,  while Finland has everything to play for, as a tie will likely put them through. 

My tip for both matches is 0-0, which would result in Belgium and Russia going through on first and second spot, while Finland will go through as 3rd, and Denmark will be out.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The unimportance of football

 Just like all Danish and Finnish fans I had been looking forward to Denmark-Finland. For both teams it was a special match: a Danish team full of expectations playing at home in the European Championships, and Finland making their debut in an international tournament.

Finland won 0-1 in what was probably their only attempt on goal in the match, and while that in itself is a historical result, the match will be remembered for Christian Eriksen's terrifying experience when he went down in the 42nd minute of the match. There appeared to be some confusion, but it was soon clear that it was serious, and when we saw medics giving CPR to Eriksen while shocked players stood around in tears, it became emotionally difficult to watch (I personally stopped watching).

Everyone feared the worse and the match was suspended. There will probably be debate about whether it was the correct thing to do, but an hour later the match continued, and despite Danish pressure Finland managed to get their extraordinary victory against some clearly drained Danish players. 

Amid the sad circumstances of the match the mutual solidarity between fans and players was extraordinary, and even when Joel Pohjanopalo scored he refused to celebrate in respect. An hour later, Romelu Lukaku (who plays with Eriksen at Inter) dedicated his first goal against Russia to the Dane.

Football transcending rivalry is beautiful.

It is reported that Christian Eriksen is in stable condition in the hospital. As a sports-man he will probably be disappointed that Denmark lost, but I think that everyone considers his recovery to be much more important than any football result. So we all wish him and his family all the best, and congratulate the Finns for their unlikely victory.

Friday, June 11, 2021

One year late, but it is here

Perhaps it is because of the COVID lockdowns, the lack of sports and excitement, or even the one-year delay, but I have been looking forward to these European Championships. This despite the low expectations on quality and the continued xenophobia, greed and politics that continue to haunt football in general, but very specifically when it comes to national teams.

That said, I will enjoy focusing on football ranting over the next month or so, and delighted to see fans in the stadiums!

The opening match was as much a disappointment about Turkey, as about a warning about Italy. I had certainly expected more from the Turks' young team, but they did not seem like a team that wanted or even believed that they could win , and only one shot on goal throughout the match is only witness of a team that was there to defend. 

And they defended well, but we can thank the Italians that it did not work, and Italy's 3-0 victory was not too big. Italy were deservedly rewarded for their patient pressure and dominance, and should indeed be considered one of the candidates to go all the way.

Who are these candidates anyway?

Let us start by saying that all teams can make it; there are no weak sides in the tournament, and on a good day the lowest ranked sides of Finland or North Macedonia can defeat the highest ranked of Belgium or France. And be certain that we will see surprises from smaller sides, as well as disappointments from some of the so-called "giants". That said, there are certainly some teams that I will personally find interesting to watch (in no particular order):

  • France: the defending World Champions have the most complete squad of all, with perhaps the best player in the world, N'golo Kante, as well as super stars as Kylian Mbappe or Rafael Varane, even a returning Karim Benzema, who had been out of the world cup squad. If things work for them as they did in Russia in 2018, they will win
  • Belgium: The side continues to be ranked number 1 in the FIFA world rankings, and continue to have a side that can defeat anybody. However, as in 2018, one has a feeling that they lack one last bit of something to go all the way. That said, personally, Belgium will be one of my favourite teams to watch, and as long as they don't face Denmark (which they will), to support
  • Portugal: One cannot dismiss the defending champions from 2016, despite it being the most boring final of all time. Portugal are still led by the Great Cristiano Ronaldo, who despite his age is still brilliant and surrounded by hugely talented players. Portugal will go for the repeat for sure, and will be contender, although I hope it will be more entertaining than in 2016....
  • Germany: The ever-strong German poor results lately have probably weakened expectations, but one would be silly ever to discount the Germans. This will be the end of the Joachim Low era, and no matter how they do, it will be interesting to see how it ends, and whether it lays a foundation for a new era of for German national football; the talented youngster are plenty. Personally I always look forward to watching Germany, but I never support them!
  • England: I will not support England in any match. That said, any football fan should be excited about their talented young team; after so many years England is managing to get hugely talented youngsters from the best league in the world. After making it to the semifinals of the World Cup they must certainly be considered contenders for the title; expectations from English fans are always huge, but this time they are justified
  • Croatia: I always love watching Croatia, simply because no matter what, they put so much passion into the game. After making it to the world cup final in 2018, they are nevertheless an older side, but still led by the Great Luca Modric, and many talented young players. Despite it all, they are unlikely to win the title, but could defeat anyone
  • Denmark: Of course I am biased, as I will support Denmark, but beyond that, I think that after many years of not having a full first-rate side, Denmark now has a full contingency of solid players, all playing in big clubs in some of the best leagues. In particular defense looks world class (including one of best goalkeepers in Kaspar Schmeichel), and there are many promising young players. The attacking power is still weak, and although they will have to do their best, on a good day they can defeat anyone

Of course, all 24 sides are worth watching, and may I add that Italy (winning today) and Spain should probably also be considered (serious) contenders for the title. Additionally, it will be great to watch and welcome the fans from Finland and North Macedonia to their first international tournament ever, and hope for them that they get some good results and fun on the way!

And last of all: let us enjoy this with respect and friendship centered around our common love for football, and forget all the narrow-mindedness that keeps separating us.

Monday, June 07, 2021

USA-Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League

The inflation of national team tournaments has reached CONCACAF, and yesterday the very first CONCACAF Nations League final was played in Denver, Colorado, between the two all-dominant teams from the CONCACAF region, Mexico and the USA.

It was an eventful match in what I guess must have been historical in being the first final of this tournament. But also, it underlined the almost-hateful rivalry between the two sides that compete to be the best among all the small teams of CONCACAF. And in Denver the Mexican team was almost at home, as Mexican fans seemed to outnumber the home-fans.

Mexican fans have been known to be passionate, if not dirty, and as has been happening a lot recently, the match was suspended temporarily due to Mexican fans' homophobic chants of "puto". It is ok they suspend the match, and have fined Mexico for this. However, I would love to see this kind of approach in other parts of the world, not least Europe, where national teams still seem unpopular for the mere act of kneeling against racism.

The passion of the Mexican fans seemed to provoke the US players who in my view reacted wrongly to the Mexican fans' attacks. In particular when Christian Pulisic scored the penalty kick for 3-2 in extra time, he ran directly towards the Mexican fans silencing them.

A clear provocation that should have cost Pulisic.

After 2-2 in ordinary time (where the USA twice equalized a Mexican lead), USA went ahead on a penalty which was revised thoroughly on VAR. In the dying second of the match Mexico was awarded the chance to equalize on a penalty, but Andres Guardado's kick was saved by the young Ethan Horvath, who had come on as a substitute for goalkeeper Zach Steffan when he got injured. Horvath, who plays in Club Brugge in Belgium had two great saves before taking the penalty that effectively gave USA the title.

Horvath was the hero of the day.

Less of a hero was the Panamanian referee. Granted, it was not an easy match amid the near-hateful atmosphere in Denver, but the referee did not help, failing to efficiently strike down on the numerous little dirty tricks played by both sides.

It was an interesting and eventful match, but it is nearly impossible to want either of these teams to succeed.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

How I became a Brøndby fan

Recently Brøndby won the Danish league for the first time in 16 years. This made me happy, very happy, but also led to a reflection about why I support Brøndby; how did I become a Brøndby fan?

The first time I saw Brøndby play was in 1987, the year that Brøndby won their second Danish title, and were emerging as the dominant force in Danish football through the 1990s. This was in Ikast, a small town in central Jutland, which had a team that competed in the top Danish league. Now, you could consider that I was an Ikast fan; living nearby I went to many matches in Ikast, so it was the team I supported. That said, Brøndby was putting Danish football on the European stage, and that same year, 1987, Brøndby made it to the quarterfinals of the European Champions Cup only to be eliminated by the later champions of FC Porto.

In 1989 I went to the Danish Cup final with my father. Ikast-Brøndby is a legendary match that ended 3-3, and only in extra time Brøndby ended up winning 6-3 (check it out on Youtube). This was a Brøndby side with players that would become legends: Peter Schmeichel, Lars Olsen, Kim Vilfort, John Faxe Jensen, Brian Laudrup..., and although I supported Ikast in that match, I was impressed by the club and the fans.

Soon after I moved to Spain, USA, and the reference point when living abroad increasingly became Brøndby, and less and less Ikast. In fact, Ikast FS ceased to exist in 1999, when it merged with Herning Fremad to form FC Midtjylland. By this time FC Midtjylland, a team based in Herning, was simply too far from my Ikast-memories, and although I sympathize with the wolves from Herning, I simply feel no connection to the side.

My attachment to Brøndby on the other hand only grew. As I moved to the outskirts of Copenhagen for university, a rivalry was emerging between Brøndby and the newly minted FC Copenhagen. For me Brøndby, the team that had already given me some memories became my natural choice among the many teams in the Danish Superliga. 

I went to Brøndby matches  once in a while (far from enough) and in 1999, when Brøndby qualified for the Champions League, I went to all matches against Bayern Munich, Manchester United and FC Barcelona. The first match, against Bayern Munich, remains a treasured memory, when Allan Ravn's memorable late kick gave them a victory against a German side that would make it to the CL final that same season (against Manchester United).

Although I increasingly spent time outside Denmark, I was in the stadium in 2002 against FCK, another memorable match, when a late equalizer by Mads Jørgensen effectively gave Brøndby the title. 

By this time there was no doubt that I supported Brøndby, and as I have moved from country to country over the last years, Brøndby has remained my point of entry to follow the Danish League. I have been hugely disappointed over the last 10 years, as the club almost went bankrupt (and I purchased stocks in the club) and as they have been unable to wrestle the two powerhouses of Danish football: FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland.

But a new title has come, hopefully more years of Brøndby giving us new memories, wherever we are in the world!