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The second of this year’s Champions League quarter-finals takes place on Sunday, kicking off at 2pm (UK time), as Brondby make the trip to Sweden to face fellow Scandinavians Linkoping. Neither come into the game as huge favourites, and this is what makes it such an intriguing tie as it feels like a one that will be won by a fantastic away performance. These two have never faced each other before, but Brondby will be looking for the nearest they can find to revenge after being denied a place in the 2003-04 Women’s Cup final the last time they faced a Swedish side.
Brondby are flying this season. In the Elitedivisionen, they remain unbeaten after fourteen games and are five points clear of their nearest title rivals Fortuna Hjorring. The only time they have dropped points was against Fortuna back in October, drawing 1-1, meaning they have a 100% record at home – one which has been maintained in Europe. This record did come under threat in the round of thirty-two when Apollon Limassol took them to extra time on their own patch in the second leg of their tie, but they overcame this with a 3-1 win that took them into the last sixteen. They were hardly tested in the next round, defeating Gintra Universitetas 5-0, albeit losing 2-0 in Lithuania in the second leg, and these easy wins have occurred just the same in their domestic campaign too. This lack of competitiveness could prove a problem as Brondby have not really been made to work for a victory since their 3-2 win over Fortuna in November. They have the match fitness their opponents lack having played three league games prior to this fixture, but this does not count for much when the games are so easy.
Linkoping, however, play their domestic campaign through the summer as opposed to Denmark’s winter season, meaning they have played just the one competitive fixture since their 3-0 defeat to Zvezda Perm in the second leg of their last sixteen tie – a tie won in the first leg when the Swedes defeated their Russian opponents 5-0. As admitted inthe preview for the first quarter-final between Bristol and Frankfurt, the players will obviously still be physically prepared with this being the big game on their mind all through the winter, but this is different to match fitness and could affect the hosts in their all-important home leg.
However, Linkoping are used to more competitive football and working harder for their victories. Their domestic league is much tougher than Brondby’s, so tough in fact that they only managed to finish fourth in 2014, meaning they will miss out on Champions League football in the tournament’s 2015-16 edition. They may not kick off their 2015 season until April 11th, but they will be more mentally prepared than their opponents who could enter the game over-confident and rather complacent.
These are two attitudes that have already overshadowed victories in the previous two rounds of this competition for the Danes. They were not prepared for the test Apollon Limassol posed in the last thirty-two, losing the first leg 1-0 before rescuing the tie in extra time at home, and they switched off again in the second leg of their last sixteen tie to lose 2-0 to Gintra, as aforementioned. If they approach this game in the same way they have approached others this term, they could regret it.
Linkoping are more likely to learn from their mistakes in the last round. They may have lost 1-0 to Rosengard at the weekend in the Swedish cup final, but one thing that was oh so apparent in that match is that they had learned from their 3-0 defeat to Zvezda as they were much more solid at the back. They have certainly focused on rectifying issues from that defeat and it has paid off. Their road to the quarter-finals has been much tougher too, coming from behind to defeat 2013 and 2014 WSL champions Liverpool before beating Zvezda, so they have maintained their focused approach both domestically and in Europe, meaning they will be switched on for the visit of Brondby too as they only know hard fought wins.
This year, Charlotte Rohlin enters her twentieth (official) year with Linkoping and will be looking to commemorate it with a piece of silverware. Rohlin is a stalwart of this team and her performance is always influential when deciding the final result of a game. Sporting the captain’s armband, she is a natural leader whose instructions and encouragement drive her team on and get them organised, especially at the back with her being a key part of the defence. Her physical talents are just as impressive. With great experience, Rohlin makes intelligent decisions that will not cost her team and she has great awareness in order to ensure her actions are risk-free. Her no-nonsense defending and powerful character mean she will play a key role in this tie, keeping her side focused at all times and full of belief when things do not go their way.
Pernille Harder was Linkoping’s top scorer in the 2014 Damallsvenskan with ten goals from midfield, but the eight-goal Fridolina Rolfo was their star performer in the Champions League with four goals in her three games played. The 21-year-old striker had a fantastic 2014 and was rewarded with her first senior cap for Sweden against Germany in October. She will be raring to go and to get straight back amongst the goals following a lengthy winter break, so her eagerness in front of goal will make her a nuisance for the opposition. With a powerful left foot and speed in abundance, Rolfo is extremely difficult to contain and her finishing is lethal. If she receives the right service at the weekend, she could net the goals that put this tie beyond Brondby before they even get to their home leg.
Whilst her domestic form has never transferred onto the international stage, Emma Madsen remains a key figure and consistent goal-scorer for Brondby. Despite scoring fourteen goals in twenty-eight games for Denmark’s under-19s, Madsen did not manage to find the net in three under-23 matches and is yet to score for the senior team having racked up four caps. However, she has scored three goals for Brondby in this year’s Champions League, in spite of starting just two games, and has totted up twelve in the 3F Ligaen with eighteen games played. Her natural goal-scoring instincts make her a huge danger in and around the eighteen-yard box, with her movement getting her into some fantastic positions for her to finish chances with ease. The great understanding Madsen has with those behind her will be very important for Brondby if they are to continue scoring as freely as they have done both in Europe and in Denmark this season, and if Linkoping show them too much respect at the back, they will be punished, especially by Madsen.
Madsen may be the face of Brondby’s goal-scoring operation the majority of the time, but it is Nanna Christiansen pulling the strings. Brondby’s number nine racks up assists for fun in all competitions, but she likes to find the back of the net herself too with eight goals in her domestic season so far. She proves time after time that not only can she find the runs of teammates, but make equally impressive ones herself that put her through on goal and give her the chances that allow her to tot up great goal-scoring totals from midfield. Christiansen’s creativity is a privilege to watch, but she likes to get stuck in too and will be excited for the midfield battle that awaits her in Sweden. A tough tackler and hard worker, she will relish the opportunity to play in such a competitive fixture and will surely rise to the occasion with her having to play rather straight-forward matches most of the time for her club. She will be another influential figure in unlocking Linkoping’s solid defence this weekend.
With the lack of competitiveness experienced by Brondby and lack of match fitness carried by Linkoping, this is a tough match to call with each side’s disadvantages cancelling the other’s out somewhat. However, in my opinion, Linkoping will be a lot more focused on this game as they have been preparing for it for months, whereas their opponents have been playing in their domestic competition and may have taken their mind off it slightly. The Swedes also have a stronger back line which will be much more difficult to break down, especially since they have learned from that 3-0 defeat to Zvezda at the end of last year, and more to play for with the Damallsvenskan getting more competitive and a shot at the Champions League places becoming more unlikely, whereas Brondby are almost guaranteed a spot in the competition every year.
With all this taken into account, I predict a Linkoping win in what promises to be a tight and well contested game. Brondby have been too confident in the competition so far for me and I believe the Swedish side will be the ones to finally punish them in what will be their biggest test of the tournament yet. It is unlikely to be a big win though, meaning the second leg will still be extremely interesting to watch.
Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai