Vardar vs Copenhagen by Sweem
A tight schedule is pushing FC Copenhagen to their limits, as they are now travelling to a boiling hot Skopje, to play versus one of the surprise teams at this stage - FK Vardar. The Macedonians will once again get acquainted with a Scandinavian opponent after recently crushing Malmo's Champions League dreams in Strumica. Is there another upset around the corner?
Worth to note, this match will take place on Vardar's usual home stadium in Skopje, on Philip II Arena. In the previous round, Vardar had to travel to the village of Strumica, to play on the very poor Mladost Stadium. It will be a more familiar setting for Vardar this time, who can count on somewhat 10,000 - 15,000 more supporters extra this time, compared to their home game versus Malmo.
FC Copenhagen are way more known to the public for their regular participation in Champions League. They are however in a bit of a rebuild process themselves, similar to Malmo - they are not entering the contest with Vardar in the optimal timing. Despite the results going their way domestically (recent victory 0-3 versus Randers) the overall performance is being questioned. Copenhagen are dealing with injuries on challenging positions, which is something that coach Stale Solbakken is commenting on:
- "Just because we have injuries, and a few new players aren't performing, does not mean that we will go and buy players", Solbakken said.
Apart from the injuries, there have also been key departures from the club. Wing back Ludwig Augustinsson has left for Werder Bremen, along with Delaney, Cornelius and Jorgensen, all being sold. All in all, there are several changes in the squad - which by all means is still competitive.
The usual wing defender Peter Ankersen (0/0) is a long term absentee, while replacement Tom Hogli (1/0) got injured last week as well. The third option is to play left back Nicolai Boilesen at right side instead. Offensively, Rasmus Falk is another long term absentee.
He remains firm that the team can handle the shortened squad situation, but also admits that the performances need more work. The Danes are coming into the battle with Vardar due to discaring the Slovakian side, Zilina, in a thriller contest. The Slovakians pressured Copenhagen to their limits even in Denmark, and revealed some weaknesses in the Danish defense. Still - as often happens, quality prevails when it comes down to being efficient.
Vardar should enter this contest full of confidence, as it was two impressive displays versus Malmo in the recent round. 1-1 away, and 3-1 victory in Macedonia showed that Vardar are capable of scoring against the normally organized Scandinavian teams. FC Copenhagen, are similar to Malmo when it comes to strenght, apart from more individual quality in the Danish side.
This is the best and greatest opportunity for Macedonia as a football country, to have a representative on the big scene. The opinions are optimistic after it was proven that they can stand tall against bigger names.
There is another important factor to focus on. The weather in Skopje has hit 40 degrees the past week, and during kickoff it will be humid and 30 degrees. In comparison to Copenhagen, where it is half of those degrees, the Danish side will have a tough time to be intense. This topic was also raised when Malmo and Finnish HJK visited Macedonia, and both sides slowed down after 60 minutes. Opposing players also commented on the tough conditions, and admitted that is was indeed not just about "hot weather" but it takes the energy out of you, even as an athlete.
This can absolutely be a factor late in the game, where Vardar should be able to get more room to control the last quarter of the match. The hosts are healthy and have continuity in the squad - two factors that Copenhagen currently do not have. What Vardar needs to fix, is their discipline - they were playing very aggressive against Malmo, which costed a penalty, and often tested the referees limits several times. This needs to stop, or else Copenhagen will have an easy pass to the next round.
Copenhagen are rightful favorites in this match - even away. However, personally I do not bite these odds. Zilina managed to cope well and expose Copenhagen, and I believe Vardar can do the same, especially since they are now playing at home (their usual stadium) and will have a lot more backing from supporters compared to previous round. This should give Vardar a lift, as they have also finally passed the first mental obstacle in passing a 'bigger opponent' than themselves.
At 1.65 odds for a Danish side in tropical weather, with significant injuries and in the middle of a rebuilding process - I definitely do not see any value. Therefore, the logic from my point of view will be on a boosted Vardar side, who breathes optimism right now. They know that they have to score at home if they should stand a chance in the return leg.