Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan bring us news of the 2nd biggest European final held in London this week.
The women’s game in England has probably never had a higher profile than it does at the moment. The national team reached the quarter finals of the last World Cup in 2007, and were runners up in the last European Championships, two years ago. On top of this, the new FA Women’s Super League has started this year, and is currently in their mid-season break, presumably to allow the England team plenty of time to prepare for the World Cup to held this summer in Germany.
For the last few years, Arsenal seem to have swept all before them in the domestic game. The Women’s FA Cup Final, normally the only women’s game seen on terrestrial television at least, always had Arsenal and one other team, which would normally end up being beaten. This year’s final, held only a couple of weeks ago, saw Arsenal claim yet another trophy, beating Bristol Academy 2-0.
In Europe though, it’s a different story. While Arsenal are the only women’s team from these shores to have been European Champions, the dominant force in women’s European football at the moment is Germany.
The UEFA Women’s Champions League is in only its second season. Prior to this, it was the UEFA Women’s Cup, but around the same time that the men’s UEFA was getting a makeover, so the women’s competition was re-branded. First competed for in 2002, the initial final was held in Frankfurt, and won by the home team before it was changed to a two-legged game. This lasted until last year, when the final was changed to just the one game, and to be held in the same city as the men’s final. This would hopefully get a few more people along to watch, rather than just the regulars who would have normally turned up at their home games. It seemed to work last year, when the final was held in Getafe, just outside Madrid, as over 10,000 attended the final between Potsdam and Lyon. Although they saw no goals in 120 minutes, Potsdam continued the German dominance of the competition (German teams have won six of the nine tournaments held so far), by winning 7-6 on penalties. See, its not only the men’s team that is good at the old spot-kicks.
After several months of competition, the same two teams have made it back to the final, this time to be held at Fulham. And while the other game at Wembley may have been attracting headlines because of the ticket prices, this one is only costing a fiver to attend. So, it would have been rude of us not to travel across London on the district line, to take in the last game of the women’s European football season; the Champions League Final.
Both teams come into this game with excellent records in the competition, having each won seven out of their last eight games. Potsdam however, hold the advantage in scoring, having netted forty-three times overall, compared to Lyon’s twenty-seven. It possibly shows how good Potsdam are (or how weak the rest of the competition is) as they have rattled up twenty eight of those goals in the last six games (including a 16-0 aggregate win in the last 16 tie with Neulengbach). English hopes were ended in the semi-final by Lyon, who beat Arsenal 5-2 on aggregate. Everton, our other team, had lost in the quarter finals to Duisburg by the same score, before they were then beaten in an all-German semi final. For a while though, we all kept a look out for the scores, hoping that an English team would get here, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, Turbine Potsdam v Ol. Lyonnais, Craven Cottage
Having managed to get the afternoon off work, I’ve started my trip to Fulham by going via Hyde Park to attend the Champions festival. Aside from a chance to have my picture taken with the trophy, it’s also meant that I have been asked to pick up several bits and pieces by various people for the big game on Saturday evening. Honestly, as if we hadn’t spent enough in Dublin last week.
Perhaps it’s because of Fulham’s run to the Europa League final last season that they have been awarded this game. Dagenham Dan and I attended most of their home games in that competition, and even started to refer to ourselves as “secret Fulham fans”. Trips to Craven Cottage this season though have been limited to just the one FA Cup tie against Bolton, so it’s nice to be back here again.
The walk from the station from Putney Bridge to the stadium must be, on a sunny day, one of the better ones in British football. It’s not too bad tonight, but it’s been tipping down with rain on and off all afternoon, and the sky is partly clear, but partly cloudy as well, and some of those are looking a bit on the evil side as well. Luckily though, the rain holds off for the walk to the ground, and indeed for the whole evening, although the temperature does drop quite quickly. It’s the end of May, but it’s a cold evening.
Both clubs have bought quite a few supporters with them, and most of those are situated in the Riverside Stand, opposite to where we are based for the evening. This does mean that we are unable to visit the Michael Jackson statue, much to the disappointment of a few of our group.
As the teams come out to warm up, the ground is still fairly empty, but as they disappear and then re-emerge for the pre-match ceremonies, it starts to fill up.
The defending champions have the first effort at goal, but the effort is saved. That’s their last meaningful shot for quite a while, as Lyon start to take over. The French team are looking that little bit sharper, and obviously want to gain a bit of revenge for losing last year’s final. They force a corner in the twelve minute, and Necib hits the post direct from the resulting kick. Potsdam have been warned, but they don’t seem to heed it, as just two minutes later a right wing cross from Thomis is headed wide by Abily.
The game is only going one way at the moment, and Potsdam are under the cosh. Lyon are still pressing, and have two opportunities in quick succession, but both go wide; the first from Schelin, and then from Abily. The Potsdam goalkeeper, Anna Sarholz is much the busier of the two between the sticks, and although she has made a couple of good saves so far, she is finally beaten just before half an hour has been played.
A corner from the right is played to the back post by the Lyon captain Bompastor, headed back by Henry, and in a good old fashioned goal mouth scramble, Wendie Renard stabs the ball home to give the French team a well deserved lead.
Potsdam take time to recover from this, and finally get a chance towards the end of the half, but Mittag pulls her shot well wide of the goal. Potsdam have not looked like a team that has scored so many getting to the final.
Half time comes along with Lyon still 1-0 up. The entertainment is provided by people waving several flags on the pitch, but those that have travelled over with us from Dagenham are quite surprised by the standard of the play so far. It’s been an entertaining game so far, and we are all hoping that it will continue.
The second half starts in a slightly lower key than the first, and it takes almost fifteen minutes for the first chance to be fashioned, but it’s another wide effort from Potsdam. Their main player, Fatmire Bajramaj is impressing, but their forward play otherwise has been poor so far. However, Potsdam begin to get a foothold in the game. Isabel Kerschowski has a good chance to score but the shot is well saved by Veronique Pons in the Lyon goal. Kerschowski is involved again a couple of minutes later with a good right wing cross which is controlled by an onrushing Mittag, but her momentum means that she carries on, but can’t get back to the ball, and it’s cleared for a corner, with which Potsdam do nothing.
Lyon make a change with fifteen minutes left; the impressive Thomis is replaced by Le Sommer, and this change sees a bit of a swing in the momentum of the game. Within a few minutes, Lyon have a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down, but there are no histrionics from those denied the spot kick, and the game continues. It takes just a few minutes more before Lyon create another chance, but the Potsdam goalkeeper makes a brave save at the feet of a French forward. A minute later though, and it’s all done.
Another cross from the right wing (from Le Sommer) finds an unmarked Lara Dickenmann at the far post; she has time to control the ball and then smash it into the far corner of the net. It’s an excellent finish, and she is almost instantly mobbed by estatic team mates.
Potsdam are not going to come back from this, and although they have one more shot at goal, it sums up their night in hitting the advertising boards behind the goal, rather than forcing the goalkeeper to make a save. There are two minutes to be added, but the game may as well end at the ninety minutes. Lyon have the game sown up, and they will be fully deserving champions.
I’m not sure what many who actually showed up (the attendance was over 14,000) were expecting, but the game was good, and I would hope that those who were reluctant to go would have at least thought about attending another women’s game. Many who watch men’s football will scoff at the idea of going to a women’s game, but there are some really good players out there, and despite what some of you may think, yes they are better than you at the game.