BARCELONA: Barcelona face Wolfsburg in the Champions League final on Saturday, aiming to assert themselves early as the decade’s dominant force in women’s football, as Lyon did in the 2010s. The Catalan giants have both immense quality and huge support, but securing a second triumph in Eindhoven is essential to keep writing history, and prove a worthy adversary for the French side on a longer timeline. Lyon are the reigning champions after beating Barcelona 3-1 in Turin last year, and have won six of the last seven editions, with a record eight triumphs in total.
“There was women’s football before Barcelona, and it was played here for years,” Lyon forward Ada Hegerberg remarked last season, as Barca racked up two world-record attendances at Camp Nou en route to the final. The Norwegian forward also pointed out her side have never lost to Barcelona, so even if they conquer Wolfsburg, that issue remains. Some Barcelona players, however, already think believe their time has begun. “I consider myself within the successful era (already), because reaching three consecutive finals is not something we would have seen in the past,” veteran defender Marta Torrejon told reporters this week.
“With one Champions League in the bag, as I put it, let’s see what happens this Saturday.” Explosive young forward Claudia Pina, who could play a big part for Barcelona in the coming decade, agreed, saying winning the second Champions League would be further progress. “I hope we keep winning, I hope we win this final, but I think already, today, we’re one of the best teams in Europe and the world,” said Pina. “We are showing it, by reaching the finals we’re reaching, and now we have to win them and, well, take a step forward.”
Barcelona have dominated within Spain, winning the last four consecutive league titles, wiping away opponents without breaking a sweat. In May they suffered their first league defeat in almost two years—during that run they won 62 consecutive league games. After Lyon beat Barcelona 4-1 in Budapest in the 2019 final, the already improving Catalans kicked up a further gear. They beat Chelsea in the 2021 final in Gothenburg to earn their maiden Champions League trophy. This season, shorn of injured two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas until recently, the Catalans lost only one game in Europe, a group phase match at Bayern Munich.
Determined to succeed During Lyon’s era of success, Barcelona watched carefully, investing in facilities and bringing through young players primed to play for the first team, including key midfielder Aitana Bonmati. They have supplemented that with star signings, including Keira Walsh from Manchester City for a world-record women’s transfer fee last summer, of 400,000 euros ($427,000). “It’s one of the main reasons why I came, and just the ambition of the club in general,” Walsh told reporters.
“If you look at how many finals they have been in in recent years it is incredible. To be in another one now shows how much the club values women’s football and where they are trying to take it.” The England international midfielder said one key difference at Barcelona was the urgency for success. “It was the wanting to win, the wanting to be in the Champions League final,” she continued. “Previously I didn’t experience that as much, it was ‘next season will be better, next season we’ll do it again,’ whereas here, it’s ‘we want to do it now’. “(They are) pushing the women’s team to be to be where they should be and really grow women’s football and investing, and trying to make this the best team possible.”
Despite Barcelona’s determination, Walsh admitted it was difficult—but not impossible—for her club to match Lyon’s incredible run because of improvements across the game. “The other teams are also great, Wolfsburg, Lyon, I think women’s football is just growing so much,” she added. “Now that I think it would be difficult for any team to go on a run like that now, but I never say never. “It’s a top club here and that’s the ambition they have—to do something like that. So yeah, why not?”- AFP