It was supposed to be the perfect ending for the European women’s club football season on Saturday: Barcelona looking to avenge their previous year’s Women’s Champions League defeat and Wolfsburg, the perfect underdogs from Germany, aiming to win their third title by causing an upset. But trust the geniuses at UEFA and the English Football Association responsible for scheduling to spoil it all for fans who simply want to enjoy some quality football, whether it’s the men or women playing. The first all-Manchester FA Cup final at the Wembley Stadium, and the Women’s Champions League final at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven, Netherlands, kicked off at the exact same minute on Saturday.
Most knew the Wembley script as early as the 12th second when Manchester City’s İlkay Gündoğan scored, but there was a sense of jeopardy in the contest at Eindhoven. It was a top game. Barcelona was controlling the ball, ruling the midfield and getting away shots as is in the club’s DNA. But Wolfsburg are one of the most consistent and top teams in Europe for many years now. Like eight-time Champions League winners Lyon, the Wolfsburg women’s team have been more successful than the men’s team this century.
In the third minute, Wolfsburg forced an error near Barcelona’s 18-yard box and Ewa Pajor scored a screamer—the distance and quality of the shot easily comparable to Gündoğan’s opener in Wembley. Barcelona’s control and dominance was not translating into a goal, and they were becoming nervous. That’s when Wolfsburg hit them on the break, with German international Alexandra Popp heading in Wolfsburg’s second. There was more thrill, bite and emotion on the field and in following this game than watching the travails of Man United’s Fred, the struggles of Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes’ constant jabbering at the referee.
After the break a determined Barcelona took the pitch, and this time they not only controlled the ball and the midfield but also found the finishing skills required to breach the Wolfsburg defence. In the first five minutes, attacking midfielder Patricia Guijarro scored two goals and the comeback was completed in the 70th minute by Fridolina Rolfö, an attacking player who plays as left back, following an error by the Wolfsburg defenders.
The good news is that women’s football has improved across Europe. In the English league, Chelsea women pipped Manchester United to the title by two points on the final day of the season. France and Germany had new league champions in PSG and Bayern Munich. Even though new attendance records weren’t set for a women’s game this year, the average spectator numbers rose significantly as also the viewership.
This steady improvement in competition and rising popularity of women’s football is a good omen for the upcoming women’s World Cup, which kicks off in July in Australia and New Zealand. The all-star American reigning champions, US, will still be the team to beat, but will now face a serious threat from other countries, much of it from European nations. So never mind the scheduling blunders of the powers-that-be, the women’s game is in fine fettle at the moment.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.