If there was ever any doubt Europe is the enthusiastic centre of women’s club football it was put properly to bed last week when a crowd of more than 91,000 watched Barcelona host Wolfsburg in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal at Camp Nou.
Saturday’s return leg (11 a.m., both semifinals streaming free on YouTube) will set a Volkswagen Arena record for the German outfit, and in the other match the Parc des Princes will establish a new mark when about 47,000 take in the latest showdown between Paris Saint-German (PSG) and Olympique Lyonnais (2 p.m.) on the outskirts of the French capital.
And, to further sweeten the pot for viewers in this country, there is the customary Canadian content.
Ashley Lawrence, who finished eighth in Ballon d’Or voting after starring in Canada’s gold-medal triumph at the Tokyo Olympics, is probably the world’s best right-back, and PSG teammate Jordyn Huitema is enjoying her most productive season to date.
On the other side of the ball is serial winner Kadeisha Buchanan. The centre-back was a stalwart on the back-line in Japan last summer, and in the next few weeks she’ll likely win a fifth Division 1 title with Lyon. No doubt she’s hoping to lift a fifth European Cup as well.
After losing on away goals to PSG last season (the rule is no longer in effect), Lyon bring a tenuous 3-2 advantage into the return fixture. But they’ll still fancy themselves to find the back of the net away from home. Their front three of Catarina Macario, Melvine Malard and Ada Hegerberg have combined for 34 Division 1 goals so far this term, and left-back Selma Bacha is the Champions League’s assists leader.
Huitema, incidentally, is one of the tournament’s top scorers. While she’ll likely come off the bench against Lyon her PSG teammate Marie-Antoinette Katoto is the form attacker in France and tallied twice in the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich before opening the scoring in Decines-Charpieu on Sunday.
Lyon-PSG is the signature rivalry of women’s club football, and no matter the result of what promises to be yet another eye-catching occasion at least one Canadian is guaranteed a place in next month’s Turin final.
They’ll find themselves up against the juggernaut that is Barcelona.
Those 91,468 fans were treated to a 5-1 thrashing of Wolfsburg last week Friday — a sparkling performance that extended the Blaugrana’s winning streak to an almost incomprehensible 45 games. Runaway Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas bagged a brace to become the competition’s leading goalscorer with 10, and striker Jenni Hermoso tallied her fifth.
As if they needed any more firepower, Barcelona will also have Asisat Oshoala and her 19 Primera Division goals available from the bench. The Nigeria international has been sidelined twice for extended periods in what has been an injury-plagued season but still leads her side in scoring domestically.
The Catalans have also conceded just five times in the Champions League. With the title already secured and a Copa de la Reina semifinal upcoming, a second successive treble is very much on.
Wolfsburg manager Tommy Stroot has rather candidly admitted that overturning the aggregate deficit is unrealistic, and that the task for his players today is to merely keep things competitive. Such is the spectre of facing Barcelona—they’ve beaten you, and thoroughly, before half the time has run off the clock.
Nevertheless, the 2021-22 campaign has mostly been a success for Wolfsburg.
They’re poised to regain the Frauen Bundesliga after a four-year run was halted by Bayern Munich last season, and the championship would take them level with Frankfurt’s all-time record of seven. They can also complete a domestic double by beating Turbine Potsdam in the DFB-Pokal Frauen next month.
In the Champions League, however, it will be up to Lyon or PSG — to Buchanan or Lawrence and Huitema — to give Barcelona a game in the final at Juventus Stadium on May 21.
If Europe is the centre of women’s club football, Barcelona currently rules it.