Women's Champions League

Women's Champions League (21)

Chelsea will play Ajax in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals, with defending champions Barcelona potential opponents in the semis.

Emma Hayes’ side will play the first leg of the last-eight tie in the Netherlands on March 19 or 20 before hosting the second the following week.

The winner will then over two legs in April face the victors of the quarter-final between Barca – 3-2 winners against Wolfsburg in the 2022-23 final for their second title – and Norwegian outfit Brann.

Chelsea, whose best run in the competition came when they were runners-up in 2021, losing 4-0 to Barca in the final, are aiming for glory in what is the final season of Hayes’ lengthy tenure before she steps down as boss to take charge of the United States national team.

The Blues were unbeaten as they topped Group D, which also featured Hacken, Paris FC and Real Madrid, while Ajax were second in Group C.

The other quarter-finals see record eight-time champions Lyon face Benfica and Paris St Germain take on Hacken.

The final is set to take place at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames on May 25.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes warned that Real Madrid will “fear nothing” when the two sides meet in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The Blues can secure qualification for the quarter-finals of the competition with a win against Real at Stamford Bridge, having won two and drawn two games already in Group D.

It has been a disappointing campaign for Real, who linger at the bottom of the table and they are unable to qualify for the last eight, but Hayes warned Las Blancas will be playing for their pride on Wednesday.

She told a pre-match press conference: “There’s nothing more dangerous than playing a team who has nothing to play for.

“They will fear nothing, they have their pride on the line and yes they’re playing for three points, but they can’t qualify. I think it’s a dangerous place for us if our mentality is to rule them out of the game and it’s something we won’t be doing.

“(It’s) critical (to win the group), we expect that for ourselves and we’re at home – I think everybody would expect us to be favourites going into the game.

“However it’s Real Madrid, they have a quality squad, a lot of internationals, they did score against us and draw with us in the reverse fixture so we know what we have to do.

“I always say to our players, let’s focus on that and put all our energy into making sure the performance is as good as it can be.”

Madrid’s sole point in the group so far came in a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in their opening game.

It played out in controversial circumstances, with Madrid awarded a penalty for a challenge outside the box before the Blues had a goal chalked off for an apparent offside, and Hayes is hoping for “strong officiating” this time round.

She said: “There was a goal scored legitimately that was an offside and a penalty that wasn’t inside the box.

“Let’s hope for strong officiating, that’s what the girls deserve tomorrow to make sure we’re not on the receiving end of poor official decisions.”

Hayes confirmed there are no new injuries for Chelsea and that midfielder Erin Cuthbert has been given the captain’s armband for the match.

Speaking about the decision, Cuthbert said: “I’ve had (the armband) a couple of times now, but it’s always an honour.

“I think nothing about me changes whether I’ve got the armband on or not, I’m still the same person and will conduct myself the same way.”

Erin Cuthbert’s second-half brace helped Chelsea take control of Group D in the Champions League with a 3-1 win at Hacken.

The two teams had played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last week, which left the Swedish outfit top after three matches, but Emma Hayes’ side were able to finish 2023 with a crucial victory.

Sam Kerr broke the deadlock with her ninth goal of the campaign and, while Clarissa Larisey scored for Hacken to ensure it was 1-1 at half-time, Cuthbert netted twice in the space of 12 minutes after the break.

It ensured the Women’s Super League champions moved into top spot of the group after four matches and hold a one-point advantage over Hacken while Real Madrid, who they will host on January 24, are no longer able to qualify for the knockout stage following a 1-0 loss to third-placed Paris.

Hayes had warned her players there were no excuses despite this being their fourth match in 10 days but they nearly conceded early on at Bravida Arena.

Only four minutes were on the clock when Anna Anvegard hit the crossbar after Larisey’s cross, but Chelsea regrouped and a Lauren James curled effort signalled their intentions.

While Hacken goalkeeper Jennifer Falk was equal to James’ 20-yard strike, she had no answer to the prolific Kerr minutes later.

Johanna Rytting Kaneryd was the architect of the opener after she outmuscled Elma Junttila-Nelhage on the right before she cut back for Kerr, who fired into the roof of the net from close range in the 14th-minute.

It was a much-needed opener for the WSL champions, but they were caught out with 26 minutes on the clock by a slick counter-attack.

Jusu Bah showed great speed out wide and crossed in from the left where Larisey powered home a header.

Chelsea could have retaken the lead before half-time, but Falk pushed wide a firm strike by Sophie Ingle.

It was a different story after the break with Anvegard firing against the woodwork again for the hosts after linking up with Larisey, which proved a crucial moment in the group fixture.

Minutes later and Hayes’ team were back in front when Rytting Kaneryd’s cross was cleared to Ingle, who showed her composure to pick out Cuthbert and the Scotland international rifled into the bottom corner to make it 2-1 after 52 minutes.

It was Cuthbert’s first goal in this season’s Champions League but she doubled her tally again with 64 minutes played.

Kerr’s smart pass sent Cuthbert away and after she fooled Filippa Curmark with a fake shot, the midfielder’s low effort was too powerful for Falk.

Hacken pushed for a response and substitute Molly Johansson found the net in stoppage-time, but it was ruled out for offside and Chelsea earned a crucial three points.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes believes her side need to use their Women’s Champions League experience to get a result in their Group D clash at BK Hacken.

The Blues will go to the top of the group if they can beat the Swedish team on Wednesday night.

They were held to a goalless draw by the same opposition at Stamford Bridge last week but will have to face a lively atmosphere in the reverse fixture.

“Every game is a must-win game for us,” Hayes said on the club’s official website. “That is our mentality. We were disappointed with our performance last week. We worked on that, trained really well, played well at the weekend. This place will be rocking tomorrow night. This is going to be a difficult place to play.

“We are playing an opponent who are very confident in what they’re doing. They’ve had an amazing year, especially in the Champions League, and we have to deal with all of those challenges. But we have to be ready to perform.

“We’re experienced in Europe. We understand it’s a different surface, a little bit colder than London, a different type of opponent.

“I think it’ll be a much different game than Stamford Bridge, particularly because of the crowd. We have experience and it’s important for us to use it.

“The message I’ll give to the players is we have been in this competition long enough, we’ve gone deep in this competition and while it hasn’t been perfect in the group stages, we have a dressing room that is capable of winning.”

Chelsea do have some injury problems for the game in Scandinavia.

“Melanie (Leupolz) hasn’t recovered, she’s had a setback,” explained the Chelsea manager. “She tried to come in on Monday, but she is not well.

“Maren (Mjelde) has made it back with the squad so she is part of that. Kadeisha (Buchanan) had an issue with a back spasm at the weekend and she’s back in the squad.

“Jelena (Cankovic) is still out with her calf and obviously, the long-term one is Catarina (Macario). Ann-Katrin (Berger) is back; she had a slight ankle knock.”

Chelsea captain Millie Bright is likely to miss her side’s Women’s Champions League meeting with Paris FC at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.

Blues manager Emma Hayes confirmed Bright has a knee problem and, although it is not a serious issue, said the 30-year-old will also be a doubt for Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses squad for the upcoming Nations League games against the Netherlands and Scotland in the first week of December.

Bright had knee surgery prior to last summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where she skippered England to second place, before returning to pre-season training at Cobham ahead of the Women’s Super League season.

The defender, who took over as Chelsea skipper from Magdalena Eriksson for the new WSL season, featured in all seven matches as England finished runners-up behind Spain having not played a competitive game for club or country since March.

“I’ve made it clear that having so many games in quick succession, we’re managing our load,” said Hayes. “We wanted to give her a bit of extra time but I think she’s very much in doubt for (Thursday).

“Prior to the World Cup she had surgery on her knee, so preparation going into the World Cup wasn’t ideal. She rushed herself back.

“She’s come back and quickly into the Chelsea season, so perhaps she needed a little bit longer.

“Her knee’s a little bit angry at the minute. It’s not anything too detrimental, we’re just listening to her body and how it’s feeling.

“There’s a strong possibility (of missing the Lionesses’ games).”

Hayes said she is yet to decide whether she will travel to the United States during the international break, following the announcement last week that she is to take over the US national team after standing down as Chelsea coach in May.

But she reiterated her stance that until then she remains committed to helping the club to a fifth straight WSL title and a first Champions League crown.

The team will be looking to get the first win of their European campaign against Paris following the controversial 2-2 draw with Real Madrid last week.

“I’m not watching (the US players), I’m watching my own team,” said Hayes. “That’s the work of the full-time team that are in place. I don’t start working for US Soccer until May.

“Since I’ve been appointed as the coach I’ve had conversations with people. There are full-time people in post in the US and I’ll be there in May. When the opportunity arises I will have conversations. But my full focus is on Chelsea.”

Striker Sam Kerr praised her manager’s impact on the club during her 12-year tenure.

“It’s obviously sad,” she said. “Emma’s a great coach, a great leader and she’s been here for so long. But that’s football.

“Chelsea are very lucky that they’ve had her for as long as they have, but most of us in football are used to these things (managers leaving). We all wish her all the best (with the US).”

Hayes interjected: “Do you mean that?”

“No,” said Australia international Kerr.

Emma Hayes admitted it would be a fairytale end to her Chelsea career by lifting the Women’s Champions League for the first time at the end of the season.

Hayes will end her 12-year stay with the west-London club after this campaign.

The Champions League is the one major trophy that has eluded the 47-year-old during that time, with the Blues having lost 4-0 in the 2021 final to Barcelona and reached the semi-finals on three other occasions.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s opening Group D fixture v Real Madrid, Hayes told a press conference: “It would be a fairytale to win it, of course. But I didn’t grow up liking fairytales – my sister did.

“I would love nothing more than to be in a winning position with this team.”

Chelsea beat Real 2-0 at Kingsmeadow last season courtesy of goals from Sophie Ingle and Erin Cuthbert before they drew 1-1 in the Spanish capital.

And Hayes, who highlighted the threat of left-back Olga Carmona, believes the experience of playing Wednesday’s opponents has helped her side’s preparations.

She added: “We have analysed last season’s match and Real Madrid’s other matches, including this weekend’s match (7-1 win v Real Sociedad). We know what to expect.

“I think having been here helps, it’s something familiar, but we don’t underestimate them.

“They have many qualities, but I think they have the best on the extremes. The ability to go upwards, especially on the left with Olga.

“They have players looking for the back and putting balls into the area and they are very good in transition.”

Chelsea captain Millie Bright admitted the news of Hayes’ departure is “devastating”.

She said: “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I was devastated.

“She is a mentor, a coach, a friend, life coach – it’s more than football playing under her. It is the hard part of football. I feel privileged to have played under her for so long.”

Manchester United manager Marc Skinner has clarified his comments around the Champions League qualifying format.

After finishing second in the Women’s Super League last season, United went through the competition’s qualifying rounds and were knocked out at the second hurdle on Wednesday night after being beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Paris St Germain.

Last year’s WSL winners Chelsea earned an automatic group spot, while third-placed Arsenal went into the qualifiers, where they were eliminated by Paris FC in the first round.

Skinner criticised the qualification rules post-match on Wednesday, suggesting it was “crazy” United played PSG in a qualifying round.

However, he moved to clear up his comments in a press conference on Friday, suggesting that the competition could be expanded.

Skinner said: “My comment was much more about the breadth and quality, I believe there is a need for more teams to be in this competition, and then you’ll see who is average and who isn’t.

“Who knows, we might have been average in a group stage, you don’t know that. If there was any offence taken then I’m sorry for that, but that’s not what I meant.

“What I meant, and I’ll be clear on it, was I think there should be a broader scope of teams and there should be more teams in this competition so that we can actually then see where the elite level lies within Europe.

“I still think that’s a bit cloudy because the reality is, if we were playing a team that are from – what people might believe- to be a league that doesn’t have the experience, then we don’t know until we’ve played those, we only ever play those teams in friendlies.

“If you really want the real quality from all of the European leagues to rise, then you’ve got to play them against each other, which I think now other teams are ready for.

“If you enter that stage and are getting through, then congratulations. We’re not there so we can talk about what that looks like, but they are there so congratulations to everyone who’s gone through.”

Melvine Malard came off the bench to head home an equaliser as Manchester United drew 1-1 with Paris St Germain in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying tie on a historic night at Leigh Sports Village.

On-loan Lyon forward Malard – who had also scored after coming on in last Friday’s 2-2 Women’s Super League draw with Arsenal at the same venue – netted in the 70th minute to cancel out Tabitha Chawinga’s 54th-minute opener.

Two-time Champions League finalists PSG had taken the lead after dominating for much of the first half of what was United’s European debut, following their second-placed finish in the WSL last season.

Marc Skinner’s side then responded impressively having gone behind, with substitutes Geyse and Malard helping them look far more threatening in attack.

The second leg takes place in Paris next Wednesday as the sides battle for a place in the Champions League group stage, for which WSL champions Chelsea have automatically qualified.

United – watched from the stands by former men’s team goalkeeper David de Gea, as well as England boss Sarina Wiegman – found themselves under pressure in the opening few seconds as Millie Turner cleared a Chawinga shot off the line.

And moments later another PSG burst forward saw Sandy Baltimore bring a good save out of Mary Earps.

As the visitors continued on the front foot, Lieke Martens headed over and Earps blocked an 11th-minute Baltimore shot with her legs, before a break in play brought about by an injury to PSG defender Oriane Jean-Francois, who was carried off on a stretcher, gave United some respite.

After Earps was subsequently called into action to deny Baltimore once more, United then had their first real opportunity in the 24th minute as Lucia Garcia looked to pounce on a misjudged backpass, only to be thwarted by goalkeeper Constance Picaud.

Skinner’s team looked more settled thereafter but were unable to build much in the way of attacking momentum, while further efforts from PSG saw Korbin Albert firing over and Chawinga’s strike being gathered by Earps.

Skinner brought on Geyse for Jayde Riviere at the interval and two minutes into the second half the Brazil forward went on an eye-catching run and fired off-target.

But soon after the hosts were behind as Chawinga latched on to Baltimore’s lofted pass and side-footed past Earps into the corner of the net.

Albert fired over seven minutes later before United went close as a corner was diverted goalwards and PSG substitute Marie-Antoinette Katoto intervened on the line.

Following a Leah Galton effort that went just wide of the visitors’ goal, Malard and Hinata Miyazawa were then introduced from the United bench – and four minutes later the former had the home side level, nodding in from Turner’s header following a corner.

As United pushed for another goal, Turner headed goalwards in the 85th minute but it was the latest effort cleared off the line as the sides ended up honours even.

England midfielder Keira Walsh outlined her ambitions to stay at serial winners Barcelona for the long haul after they sealed a stunning 3-2 comeback against Wolfsburg to lift the Champions League trophy for the second time in three years.

Saturday’s sold-out Eindhoven showpiece was the first time Walsh was part of a title-winning side in the European competition, while club and country team-mate Lucy Bronze is now a four-time champion following a trio of victories with Lyon.

Walsh, 26,  joined Liga F champions Barcelona on a three-season deal last September, less than two months after winning the Euros with England, and admitted she is loving the look of her trophy cabinet.

She told DAZN: “It’s been a pretty good year. The Euros, the Champions League, I think if someone was to tell me this was going to happen I wouldn’t believe them.

“To play for Barcelona, for these fans, it’s a special, special feeling,” adding of her future at the club: “Yeah. I think you want to be playing in these games and winning Champions Leagues and this is the club that does that.”

Walsh’s side beat Chelsea to reach their fourth final in five seasons, and had redemption on their minds after a crushing 3-1 loss to Lyon in Turin last year.

Despite being heavy favourites there was a sense of deja vu for Barca, who conceded their fastest-ever opener in the competition when Ewa Pajor netted on just two minutes and 57 seconds.

That brought back memories of Turin, where Barcelona fell behind after just six minutes and conceded twice more before the break.

This time it was just a two-goal deficit at the restart after Alexandra Popp headed home on 37 minutes, but the shock nonetheless forced Walsh and her team-mates to dig deep.

They did so in spectacular style through Patricia Guijarro, who netted twice in two minutes to ensure it was all square after just five minutes of the second period, and Fridolina Rolfo sealed the result with a 70th-minute winner.

Walsh said: “First half, not great for us. I think we kept the ball but didn’t score on our chances, so to score three goals in the second half was incredible.

“We just came in at half-time and Alexia [Putellas] said that if there’s any team that can overturn a two-nil it’s this team and that’s what we did. Patri Guijarro, she’s a special, special player and I think today it’s about time that people recognised that.

“For me the best player in the world.”

Bronze, meanwhile, made history by becoming the first English player to win the Women’s Champions League with two different clubs in her first game back since recovering from an April knee injury.

It was enough to require surgery, which some feared might see her added to the list of Lionesses set to miss the World Cup, but the defender played the full final and looks fit to start England’s opener against Haiti in exactly seven weeks.

Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman was on trophy-presenting duty at Saturday’s final, which got off to a shaky start for Bronze after her error led to Wolfsburg’s opener.

Bronze, who played the full match, said: “Once there was two goals we shut up shop, we made it really difficult defensively, created loads of chances in attack.

“It was difficult for myself and Frido, we both haven’t played for five weeks, obviously I’ve had surgery – I’ve only trained a couple of times. It was definitely difficult but I’m so happy to have played my part for the team.”

Fridolina Rolfo’s strike completed a stunning second-half comeback to secure Barcelona the Champions League trophy with a 3-2 victory over Wolfsburg at Eindhoven’s sold-out Philips Stadion.

The Spanish side were favourites to win a second title in three years but were stunned by Ewa Pajor’s opener after just three minutes, while skipper Alexandra Popp extended Wolfsburg’s advantage to two before the break.

Two goals inside two second-half minutes for Patricia Guijarro brought Barcelona back into the contest immediately following the restart before they  benefited from a Wolfsburg error to seal the win.

Barca’s victory also made English history, with Lioness Lucy Bronze becoming the first from her country to win the Champions League title with two clubs having previously done so three times with Lyon.

Both sides had eliminated English opponents to get here, with Wolfsburg seeing off Arsenal and Barcelona reaching their fourth showpiece in five seasons after drawing 1-1 with Chelsea in their second leg to advance 2-1 on aggregate.

Current England and former Netherlands boss Sarina Wiegman brought out the trophy on a sunny afternoon in her native country, and was no doubt  delighted to see Bronze, recovered from knee surgery, back in the Barcelona starting line-up exactly seven weeks before the Lionesses open their World Cup campaign.

It was the England defender’s mistake, however, that led to her side conceding after just two minutes and 57 seconds – the fastest Barcelona had ever fallen behind in the competition.

Barca had a shot stopped by Merle Frohms before Pajor won the ball off Bronze and made her way into the centre before drilling past Sandra Panos into the top right corner.

That  likely conjured up painful memories for Barcelona, who conceded to eventual 3-1 winners Lyon after six minutes last year in Turin.

Irene Paredes cringed after wasting a free header, while at the other end Sveindis Jonsdottir had a half-volley saved for the Frauen-Bundesliga runners-up.

Caroline Graham Hansen found herself in a perfect position to level from Mapi Leon’s excellent delivery but the Norwegian could not connect and seemed thrown off by the bounce the ball took en route to the six-yard box.

As the Liga F champions struggled to settle into a dominant rhythm, Pajor turned provider and sent a fine delivery in the direction of her skipper to dutifully head home – Popp in the process equalling Ada Hegerberg’s UWCL record as she got herself on the finals scoresheet in a fourth separate season.

It took an alert Frohms to deny Salma Paralluelo late in the period and send her side into the second half with a two-goal advantage.

That was erased within five minutes after the restart when Guijarro collected Graham Hansen’s cut-back, then nodded her second past a leaping Frohms two minutes later from Aitana Bonmati’s delivery.

Barcelona’s comeback was complete after Lynn Wilms’ attempted clearance instead deflected off team-mate Kathrin Hendrich, allowing Mariona Caldentey to tap the ball to Rolfo, who fired in the 70th-minute winner from the edge of the six-yard box.

Both benches showed nerves during seven minutes of stoppage time, but it was Barca who ultimately survived a late scare to secure the trophy.

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