Lyon might have won the Women’s Champions League for the last four years running, but Wolfsburg don’t stop their dominance this year, it’ll be their biggest missed opportunity yet.
The German side secured their place in the final on Tuesday, but haven’t been crowned champions of Europe since they won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
Since, they have developed a rivalry with the French giants that has been very one-sided.
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In the last four years, the pair have met in every Champions League campaign. On every occasion, the result has been the same: Lyon win.
“Last year, we thought at Wolfsburg that we were closer than we were,” Caroline Graham Hansen, now of Barcelona, told Goal this week.
Graham Hansen was part of the Wolfsburg side who met Lyon in last year’s quarter-finals. It was a thrilling game for the neutral, finishing 6-3 on aggregate, but a bitterly disappointing result for Wolfsburg.
But this year is different. For the first time in several years, Lyon look beatable.
They were given a scare by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, narrowly coming through with a 2-1 win to set-up a semi-final tie with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
They are without their star player, Ada Hegerberg, the UWCL’s all-time top-scorer.
Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 – with some teams rustier than others due to differing schedules – has thrown in another interesting factor when deciding the champions of Europe.
Wolfsburg, meanwhile, look stronger than they have in some time.
They’re coming into the tournament off the back of another league and cup double in Germany, trophies they secured with aplomb – scoring 93 goals in 22 games, conceding just eight.
Pernille Harder is the best player in the world right now. Ewa Pajor is exceptional, particularly with Harder pulling the strings. The signings of players like Ingrid Engen, a superbly talented midfielder, and Dominique Janssen, adding steel at centre-back, have strengthened them even further.
But Tuesday showed that they can still be their own worst enemy.
Whether it’s the rust of not playing competitively for a few months before these huge games, or perhaps even a hint of fatigue from being the first major women’s league to resume amid a global pandemic, they lacked the cutting edge that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from them.
In reality, Barcelona dominated the game. The way they dominated the game was fantastic, but without the cutting edge to win it.
It was disappointing for them too. Barca reached the final of this competition last year and have also strengthened, with Graham Hansen and Jenni Hermoso – both named in last year’s Goal 50 – among their summer signings. But they were guilty of missing chance after chance.
It’s something Wolfsburg must learn from. On another day, it could’ve been the German side ruing their inability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon’s opponents in tomorrow’s semi-final, know that feeling all too well.
It’s just two weeks since they were beaten on penalties in the final of the French cup, after a goalless draw with their biggest rivals.
But Lyon know how to win. Compared to their past, they are not at their best, but that’s because their best is so good.
“I think there were people saying ‘ah, it’s not competitive’. I’m like, Barcelona are a good team,” Lyon right-back Lucy Bronze told Goal of last season’s UWCL final.
“We struggled against them [the year before] in the Champions League, narrowly beating them.
“I think maybe playing them the year before made us even more focused because we knew we had to play well to beat them.”
Lyon will not have forgotten that they conceded three times to Wolfsburg last year. They’re perfectionists and they always want to be better.
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Every year that they win another Champions League title, defending it becomes harder. This year is no different.
PSG will put up a stern test on Wednesday, the same as they did earlier this month, and they will be even hungrier to win after the cruel shootout defeat.
But if Wolfsburg can raise their game back to the level it was at in the Bundesliga this season, they can beat anyone.
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