UEFA Women’s Champions League: Barcelona Femeni Scrape, Wolfsburg Power Through
FC Barcelona Femeni players celebrate after beating Atletico Madrid in their UEFA Women’s Champions League match.
Barcelona Femeni, finalists from last year beat their Spanish counterparts Atletico Madrid in a keenly fought if not high quality encounter yesterday in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in San Mames. The difference between the sides was a goal by Kheira Hamraoui in the 80th minute of the game guaranteeing the Spaniards a spot in the semifinals.
If there was something to be learnt from the game it was how much of a knockdown effect the lockdowns have had on the women’s game. While the top men’s leagues have all somehow managed to complete their seasons in the women’s game the decision to cancel seasons as they stood were taken very early. And ever since most players have been living in a limbo, with no competitive action till last week.
This was evident in Barcelona’s performance. The team that last lost a competitive fixture last year in their Champions League final loss to Lyon had had a majestic league season. They won 19 of the 21 games they’d played in the season and had overwhelmed Atletico in three encounters this campaign. Atleti’s troubles were compounded by five players who tested positive for Covid-19 before this fixture, which meant they gave five players full debut for one of the most important games of the season and went in with a bench that was -- quite literally -- half that of Barca’s (Atleti had six players in reserve to Barca’s 12).
And yet, Barca looked rusty for a large part of the game, their front four and power in numbers doing very little to break Atleti’s resistance. Last year’s finalists had the best chance of breaking the first-half deadlock, Asisat Oshoala chasing down a half-cleared corner and Lieke Martens stabbing a shot goalwards. Unfortunately for them, Aïssatou Tounkara was there to clear off the line.
The winning goal arrived -- late and at a time when Atleti were visibly fatigued -- courtesy another one of Oshoala’s interventions. The Nigerian striker was one of the loudest voices talking about the lack of football for women professionals in the lockdown. “When I was stuck indoors I was just begging,” she said in an interview with the Guardian, “OK, even if it’s just five-a-side, even if it’s three v three, just let me play.” And so, in her first competitive fixture in six months it made sense that she wanted to make the most of it.
It was her miscued overhead kick that gave Barca the lifeline, the ball flying to Hamraoui, rather than in the goal. The Frenchwoman calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner to give them the win. Based on the evidence of the match — and the other one happening not too far away — they will have to be much better to make it to the finals twice in a row.
Glasgow Lose to Wolfsburg
Glasgow City went into their fixture against Wolfsburg at the Anoeta, knowing that they were significant underdogs to cause an upset and reach the last four of the competition. The difference between the duo is vast. The facts are testament to that. The Scottish club had five substitutes on the bench. Wolfsburg had 11. Glasgow City were playing a fixture for the first time since November. Wolfsburg had won the German League — one of the few that restarted and was completed — and the cup. Glasgow are a club made up of part time footballers. Wolfsburg’s lineup is basically the who’s who of women’s football.
And so, despite the terribly one sided 9-1 scoreline, and the establishment of Wolfsburg’s title credentials, it is the one goal that they did score that will cheer them.
The Germans scored five before Glasgow City got, what was even by then, a consolation mark. Their pained expressions received some respite though, thanks to a superb Lauren Wade strike in the 63rd minute. Soon after Wolfsburg put in four more, but in the end it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that the Scottish women’s game had been represented at the Champions League quarter finals for the first time in over five seasons.
For Wolfsburg, the performance was a validation of all the hype. Now they face Barcelona, and based on form they go in as favourites.
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