As you well know, the Champions League Final was played out at Wembley on Saturday between two German powerhouses: eventual victors Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The Women’s version of the tournament’s magnificent finale, however, took place on Thursday evening at Stamford Bridge.
Incidentally, debutants Wolfsburg – another German team – were facing holders Lyon of France. In a competition which is renowned for its sheer magnitude and popularity, the female equivalent of it often goes unnoticed or uncovered. Thursday’s spectacle was a timely reminder, though, of just the sort of talent that is on show.
Lyon headed into the clash with rich promise. The statistics were with him: they hadn’t lost a match in 118 competitive games, other than on penalties, they’d netted 129 goals in 21 domestic outings this campaign, conceding just five and were of course the holders (two-time winners). Wolfsburg were written off before a ball was even kicked.
But to everyone’s amazement, the Germans pulled off one of the most astonishing results of their history by securing a narrow 1-0 win and thus clinching their third piece of silverware in a matter of two weeks, following the Women’s Bundesliga and the German Cup. This is even more remarkable considering they had not won a major trophy before this year.
It was an evenly fought contest in which both teams cancelled each other out. It would take either a moment of pure magic or a chunk of good fortune to determine the outcome, and in the end it was the latter. With 17 minutes remaining of the 90, Lyon’s Laura Georges was accused of handball in the penalty area by the Romanian referee and a spot kick was given. It was a controversial decision as Georges knew nothing about it and on another day, it could have been all so different.
Martina Müller stepped up and made no mistake, blasting the ball past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi in emphatic fashion. It could be said the goal came a little against the run of play as earlier efforts from Camille Abily, Amandine Henry and Lotta Schelin went begging. Lyon were in a state of shock as their first defeat in a long, long while was looking increasingly more likely. In the hope of snatching a last-gasp winner, they threw bodies forward but nothing materialised as the control and attacking verve they had in the first-half evaded them.
It was Wolfsburg’s night. Despite having to hang on and ride their luck for large parts – with the odd counter-attack instigated by the impressive Muller – coach Ralf Kellermann’s troops battled hard and didn’t give in. Alexandra Popp, who filled in at left-back for the ill Verena Faisst, usually operates as a striker but improvised superbly in defence. Nadine Kessler also caught the eye, dictating matters in the middle with great assurance. But in truth, it was a fantastic team effort.
Kellermann beamed after the match: “We put in a masterly tactical performance. The atmosphere was great and we’re all just delighted. It’s very important we have a trophy and we’ve beaten the best team. The main thing is that our plan worked.”
For Lyon, though, it was a bitterly disappointing night. The stage was set for them to go and deliver but for reasons here and there, boss Patrice Lair’s side couldn’t break the deadlock. Had they have bagged the first goal, you’d have thought Lyon would continue to run rampant and get four or five. But that’s football.
Lair spoke of her dissatisfaction following the game: “We’re very disappointed – when you lose a game, that’s always the case, even if we don’t lose very often. We didn’t do what we needed to tonight. We weren’t effective enough – we didn’t pose enough of a threat. Eventually they managed to get the goal.”
Lyon’s incredible unbeaten streak comes to an abrupt end, but it was Wolfsburg’s night as they finished off their season like a dream: claiming the Champions League trophy for the first time in their history.