Fernando Torres' wait for his first Chelsea goal continues against FC Copenhagen tonight when the defender tasked with stopping the £50m striker will be a Swedish international who almost had to quit the game because of a heart condition.
Mikael Antonsson's story has echoes of that of his manager at FC Copenhagen, the Norwegian Stale Solbakken, formerly of Wimbledon, who was also diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart problem. While Solbakken, who collapsed on the pitch with a heart attack when playing for Copenhagen 10 years ago, had to give up the game, Antonsson has been able to continue playing.
He marked Lionel Messi in both games FC Copenhagen played against Barcelona in the group stages – including a 1-1 draw at home to the Spanish champions – and now finds himself up against another of Europe's leading strikers. Antonsson, 29, has played for four years without problems after a series of operations to resolve a heart rate that would not slow when he rested.
"I had a pulse that was double what you normally have so I didn't have resting pulse," he said. "I had twice a pulse. So when I was running it was right at the top so I was very tired. At that time I had a maximum of around 240, so that is quite high, and resting at 150, when it should be 60. Now it is normal."
Antonsson is just another success story in FC Copenhagen's rise to power, which has turned them into the most successful team in Scandinavia over the past 10 years. They are 19 points clear at the top of the Danish league at the halfway point of the season and are cruising to a seventh league title in nine years.
Owned by the same company that owns the club's Parken Stadium – where England played Denmark this month – and that runs a successful holiday business, they have become so powerful that now they buy the best players in the region, as well as stars from Dutch clubs, traditionally much more powerful than their Danish counterparts.
It is surely for that reason Roman Abramovich's son, Arcady, was reported to have had an interest in investing in the club, which was subsequently denied by his legal team. Yesterday, Solbakken, a self-confessed Liverpool fan, said that some of his players were "daft" enough to think they could win the game.
"Some of my players are so sure they think they're a better side than Chelsea now," he said. "Maybe I should be talking them down a bit. Some have only lost one or two games playing in this side, so they think it's easy. Confidence is very high in the team."
In the Brazilian midfielder Claudemir, 22, signed from the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, Copenhagen have the player regarded as the best in the Danish league. Their Senegalese striker Dame M'Doye and his strike partner Cesar Santin, another Brazilian, are also highly regarded. Their winger Christian Bolanos is from Costa Rica. Chelsea's players will not be the only ones affected by the sub-zero temperatures tonight.
The problem for FC Copenhagen is that the long winter break in the Danish league began on 4 December. They last played a competitive game on 7 December, when they beat Panathinaikos 3-1 in their final Champions League group game. Since then they have wintered in La Manga in Spain and played friendlies – their last was a 5-0 win over Norway's Rosenborg last week.
In Copenhagen they have been talking about this tie and scouting Chelsea for almost two months. "They [Chelsea] were by far the best team against Everton, and they were much better than Fulham in the second half," Solbakken said. "It's better to meet them now than in September, but their results are weaker than their performances. They haven't been that bad. But they haven't been scary, either."
FC COPENHAGEN V CHELSEA: THREE KEY CONFRONTATIONS
Mathias Jorgensen v Fernando Torres
Mathias 'Zanka' Jorgensen will prove to be an able opposition to Fernando Torres. The 20year old centre-back has three inches in height on Torres and started against England for Denmark in the recent friendly. He has played in each of the Champions League group games and has attracted interest from Germany and England.
Dame N'Doye v John Terry
The 6'2 Senegalese striker will be a handful for John Terry. N'Doye is joint top scorer in the Danish League with 13 goals alongside team-mate César Santin. He scored key goals in the group games for Copenhagen including the winner against Rubin Kazan. He possesses lightning pace and an ability to finish coolly under pressure.
Jesper Gronkjaer v Jose Bosingwa
Former Chelsea winger Gronkjaer is expected to start on the left of midfield. The Dane willhave to call on his years of experience to evade Jose Bosingwa, who is five years younger than him and significantly quicker. The right-back is starting to find form after returning from a 12-month absence with a knee injury.Reuse content