Barcelona have won the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the second time after a brilliant comeback in the Second Half of their Final against Wolfsburg in Eindhoven.
At the interval, the prospect of a second successive Final defeat was very real for Jonatan Giráldez’s side. Barcelona conceded three goals in the opening 33 minutes in defeat to Lyon in last season’s showpiece and for a while on Saturday, history looked in danger of repeating itself for a side that is very widely considered the strongest female team of its generation, but one that had only one European title to its name before the trip to the Netherlands.
A Thrilling Final
It’d only be natural that Barcelona’s players may have carried a few demons into the game after what happened twelve months ago. After another season of domestic dominance and a relatively smooth path into the Champions League Final, the clear expectation was that they’d be too strong for Wolfsburg. However, as was the case last year, Barça fell behind very early in the game.
In just the third minute to be precise. As the Catalans attempted to build from the back in their distinctive and invariably effective style, full-back Lucy Bronze was caught in possession and Ewa Pajor, by a distance the competition’s top scorer, made her pay with a fierce drive from the edge of the area that was too hot for Sandra Paños in the Barcelona goal.
While they actually regrouped well and created several good openings, Barça were caught out again in the 37th minute by another moment of sheer quality from Pajor. This time she picked up the ball on the left flank and delivered the perfect ball in for striker Alexandra Popp to head home Wolfsburg’s second.
While the scoreline wasn’t truly reflective of the game, Barcelona had a big problem at the break and were staring down the barrel of a third Champions League Final defeat in the space of just five seasons.
Step forward Patri Guijarro, to not only turn the game on its head, but also perhaps play a defining role in ensuring the legacy of a side that was in danger of picking up the unwanted tag of being a great team who failed to deliver in European Finals.
The 25 year old cut the deficit to one goal within three minutes of the restart, firing home from close range after Caroline Graham Hansen’s smart cutback.
Suddenly, Barcelona smelt weakness in the opposition defence and moments later they again attacked down the right with Aitana Bonmatí. Despite having to cut back on to her weaker left foot, the Spaniard whipped in a dangerous delivery and Guijarro was there again, arriving late into the box to glance home the equaliser and spark wild celebrations amongst the estimated 8,000 Barça fans in the crowd.
We hadn’t even been playing for five minutes since the restart and suddenly it was 2-2. The tide had turned and the Spanish champions must have sensed an opportunity to go in for the kill, but to their credit Wolfsburg regrouped and started to get a foothold in the game again.
The dangerous Pajor was twice denied by Paños midway through the half before Barcelona once again attacked down the right. The delivery wasn’t as good this time, but Wolfsburg failed to clear their lines and the ball broke to Swedish international Fridolina Rolfö who completed the comeback with a cool finish to ensure the trophy would be heading back to the Catalan capital.
An Opportunity to Grow & Dominate
For a side that is so dominant domestically, winning 58 of their 60 Liga F matches in the past two seasons, it’s afternoons like the one they experienced on Saturday that will come to define this outstanding Barcelona Femení side.
Even in the early rounds of the Champions League, Barça are often simply able to outclass the opposition which makes the number of occasions where they are truly tested relatively rare.
In their four Champions League Finals, Barcelona have now experienced every range of emotions from the despair of two First Half collapses against Lyon to their own early onslaught against Chelsea in 2021. The 2023 Final may be their most important experience yet and should allow them to take great confidence and mental strength from their ability to stare into the abyss in a big European Final and yet still come back to win.
There is a clear opportunity now for Barcelona to significantly improve on their tally of two Champions League titles in the coming years. They are already the dominant force in the women’s game and having successfully captivated public interest in their women’s team better than most of their main European rivals, it’s an opportunity that club president Joan Laporta seems determined to capitalise on.
“Women’s football attracts a lot of fans and the Johan stadium is too small” he said speaking to Televisió de Catalunya at the end of the Champions League Final, referencing the 6,000 capacity Estadi Johan Cruyff where Barcelona Femeni play their home games.
“We have to look for solutions. Maybe we can reach an agreement with some Catalan clubs in other stadiums, but it has not yet been decided. They deserve everything and we will do everything to make them feel accompanied”.
With extensive redevelopment that will shut for Camp Nou for around 18 months if not longer, the opportunity for the women’s team to play big games in the club’s main stadium won’t be on the cards next season, so it’s going to be interesting to see quite how Barça approach this.
The Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, the temporary home for the men’s team next year, may host some Women’s Champions League games while Sabadell and Terrassa are the most viable options within the Province of Barcelona should the club seek a slightly larger home for Liga F and Champions League group stage fixtures.
On the pitch though, wherever that may be, there can be little doubt that this Barcelona Femeni will continue to be the team to beat in Spain and in Europe when the 2023/24 season kicks off.