Tight contests and high drama in front of record crowds ultimately produced a new challenger to the champions’ crown
Kay-Lee de Sanders of Ajax rises with Sparta Praha’s Andrea Stašková (above). The Amsterdam team won 4-1 on aggregate. lena Linari (right) celebrates Atlético knocking out Manchester City. Lieke Martens (far right) scored as Barcelona edged past BIIK-Kazygurt
ROUND OF 32
Gone are the days when this stage of the competition produced a slew of one-sided contests. Tight ties abounded for many of the seeded teams – not least Manchester City, semi-finalists in the previous two campaigns. Their trophy dreams were dashed by Atlético Madrid, while Barcelona had to dig deep to edge past Kazakhstan’s BIIK-Kazygurt. European regulars Brøndby were also made to sweat, narrowly overcoming debutants Juventus, who won the Italian title at the first attempt last term. And it was a similar story for last season’s beaten finalists Wolfsburg as they were pushed hard by Iceland’s Thór/KA. Holders Lyon had it easier, putting seven goals past Avaldsnes Idrettslag, but overall three unseeded teams survived – Atlético, Fiorentina and Norwegian champions LSK Kvinner, the latter beating 2009 finalists Zvezda-2005.
ROUND OF 16
HEGERBERG ON FIRE
Ajax were the only new face in the round of 16 and they had the misfortune to run up against a hungry Lyon side, merciless as they triumphed 4-0 away and 9-0 at home. Ada Hegerberg (pictured) continued her astonishing scoring record by striking in each leg to move past 40 European goals aged just 23. There was also a rude awakening for Atlético, who fell to Wolfsburg for the second year in a row, Pernille Harder registering twice in both games as the German side won 10-0 on aggregate. As for Paris Saint-Germain, they clinched victory against Swedish champions Linköping, with Wang Shuang – nicknamed ‘Lady Messi’ in her homeland – becoming the first Chinese player to score in the competition. Through too went Bayern München, Barcelona and Chelsea Women, Fran Kirby rattling in a hat-trick for the Blues away to Fiorentina. Elsewhere, LSK became the first Norwegian quarter-finalists since 2009/10 by knocking out Brøndby, but the performance of the round belonged to Slavia Praha, who saw off Rosengård two years after suffering a 6-1 aggregate loss to the Swedish outfit.
Pernille Harder is the
season’s top scorer so far on eight goals, two more than
Lyon’s Eugénie Le Sommer.
This season’s nine competition debutants included some famous names in Juventus, Basel and Anderlecht.
Anja Mittag increased her competition-record goal tally to 51, scoring for Rosengård against Slavia Praha.
Brøndby were involved
in their 15th knockout campaign – three more
than any other club.
LYON THWART WOLFSBURG AGAIN
All eyes were on the latest showdown between Lyon and Wolfsburg – and as in the 2016 and 2018 finals, not to mention the 2016/17 last eight, the French club came up trumps. The first leg in Lyon attracted a quarter-final record crowd of 17,840 and the home side raced into a 2-0 lead, before Nilla Fischer gave Wolfsburg hope. The German side showed even more defiance at home, drawing level from 2-0 down thanks to a Harder double, but two-goal Eugénie Le Sommer eventually swept them aside. “I was a little afraid at 2-2,” admitted OL president Jean-Michel Aulas, whose team were safely through to face Chelsea. The tension was even more unbearable for the Blues, who needed Maren Mjelde’s last-gasp strike in Paris to seal a 3-2 aggregate win, which left the Norway forward joking: “I didn’t want it to go to extra time!” Bayern and Barcelona progressed with a little more ease, though Bayern drew 1-1 away to Slavia in front of a Czech record 6,822 crowd before winning 5-1 at home. That set up a semi-final tie with Barcelona, 4-0 aggregate victors against LSK.
Two goals from Pernille Harder (left) could not save Wolfsburg going out against Lyon. Mandy Islacker (below left) scored twice as Bayern eased past Slavia Praha
Lucy Bronze (right) helped Lyon qualify for their fourth consecutive final. The Barcelona players (below) celebrate becoming the first Spanish team to reach the final. A last-minute goal by Maren Mjelde (bottom) in Paris gives Chelsea a place in the semi-finals
BREAKTHROUGH FOR BARCELONA
A first ever trip to the final was the prize on offer to both Bayern and Barcelona as they convened in Munich – and it was the Spanish side who took the first-leg spoils. Kheira Hamraoui struck the only goal with a fine low effort, and although she was subsequently sent off in the second leg, Mariona Caldentey’s penalty sealed a landmark triumph for Barça in front of a club-record crowd of 12,764. “This is a reward for many years of hard work,” said coach Lluís Cortés. “It’s a historic milestone and a very special day.” Lyon, in contrast, have grown accustomed to reaching the final, but the holders were pushed hard by a valiant Chelsea team in their semi-final. Erin Cuthbert’s goal in France left OL with a narrow 2-1 lead to protect in London, and they just about managed it after Ji So-Yun’s free-kick cancelled out Le Sommer’s deflected opener. Chelsea ramped up the pressure, hitting a post through Karen Carney, but Lyon ultimately held firm. “We played badly, but you can never give up,” said Hegerberg. “That’s our strength. And to be in a fourth straight final is historic. There are no words.”
First ever scorers from
China, Tunisia and Uganda took the total of nations to have produced competition goals to 74.
Lyon are the only club to have won ten quarter-finals,
keeping up their perfect
Lyon are the first team to reach four consecutive finals, and their overall total of eight extends their own record.
A record number of
spectators attended the quarter and semi-finals, Lyon setting new benchmarks
in both their home ties.
Four young stars making their mark
The skilful, tireless striker started last season’s final in Kyiv, but she has become truly established this campaign, forming a prolific partnership in Wolfsburg’s attack with Pernille Harder. Pajor made her top-flight debut for Medyk Konin aged just 15, before spearheading Poland to a shock victory at the 2013 UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship.
The Scotland midfielder was a free-scoring 18-year-old when Chelsea signed her from Glasgow City in 2017. This season, she has cemented a starting place and found the net with regularity while also blossoming as a canny playmaker. Scotland boss Shelley Kerr says: “She’s got a winning mentality, she’s physical and she’s got that sheer Scottish passion.”
Paris were absent from Europe last season, meaning then teenage striker Katoto had to restrict her breakthrough campaign to 26 goals in 27 domestic games. Quick with a terrific touch, she burst on to the continental scene this term with five UEFA Women’s Champions League strikes before her 20th birthday in November, while keeping pace with Lyon phenomenon Ada Hegerberg in the league.
Player of the tournament at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last August, Guijarro has transferred her Spain form to the club stage. Her early goal sparked Barcelona’s home comeback against BIIK-Kazygurt and she has produced her share of spectacular strikes. But the central midfielder brings more than just goals; her technical ability and mature reading of the game are equally valuable to the Blaugrana.