- The UEFA Women’s Champions League returns following the break for COVID-19
- Bilbao and San Sebastian to host the final phase between 21 and 30 August
- Barcelona and Atletico Madrid captains discuss pair's historic last-eight meeting
The stage is set at San Mames and Anoeta. The UEFA Women’s Champions League returns on Friday at two of Spain’s most modern stadiums, with the eight best teams in Europe ready to fight it out for the crown over the next nine days in a straight knockout format.
Champions for the last four seasons, Olympique Lyon are warm favourites, although Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg, Arsenal and outsiders Glasgow City are all determined to give them a fight. And then there are the two giants of Spanish women’s football: last year’s runners-up Barcelona and first-time quarter-finalists Atletico Madrid, who will kick off this final phase with their first ever meeting in the competition.
On the eve of the game, Atleti captain Amanda Sampedro and her Barça opposite number Vicky Losada spoke to us about this very different Women’s Champions League, one with a unique Spanish flavour.
|Round||Date & Venue||Match|
|Quarter-final||21 August, Estadio de Anoeta||Glasgow City 🆚 Wolfsburg|
|Quarter-final||21 August, Estadio de San Mames||Atletico Madrid 🆚 Barcelona|
|Quarter-final||22 August, Estadio de Anoeta||Arsenal 🆚 PSG|
|Quarter-final||22 August, Estadio de San Mames||Lyon 🆚 Bayern Munich|
|Semi-final 2||25 August, Estadio de Anoeta||Glasgow/Wolfsburg 🆚 Atletico/Barcelona|
|Semi-final 1||26 August, Estadio de San Mames||Arsenal/PSG 🆚 Lyon/Bayern|
|Final||30 August, Estadio de Anoeta||W semi-final 2 🆚 W semi-final 1|
Clásico curtain raiser
Domestic rivals for many years, having gone head-to-head for trophy after trophy, Las Rojiblancas and Las Azulgranas are facing off for the first time in a European competition.
“There’s no better way to start the season than with Atleti-Barça in the Champions League,” said Barcelona’s Vicky Losada. “And playing this game here is great for women’s football in Spain. It’s a sign that things are being done in the right way.” The central midfielder knows what she is talking about. She returned to Barça in 2016 after spells in the USA and England, and has seen for herself just how much the women’s game has grown in Spain.
That view is echoed by Amanda Sampedro, an iconic figure at Atleti, the club she joined at the age of nine: “These are really exciting times. Our football is coming back with a bang and we’re letting people know that we’re here. We’re going to have a semi-finalist and I’d be the happiest woman in the world if it were us.”
Azulgranas with the edge
Given their settled line-up and their domestic dominance last season, when they won the league, Barcelona head into the game as favourites. Losada is not getting carried away, however: “With knockout matches like these you don’t have any time to react and you have to give it your all.”
Atleti also have selection issues to contend with. Five of their players, several of them undisputed first-choices, tested positive for COVID-19 in the last few days and are self-isolating at home.
“Obviously it’s not easy but we just have to get on with it,” said Sampedro. “The reality is that Barça are even bigger favourites than they were, but that’s football. It’s a one-off match and we have nothing to lose. We’re going to go for it and compete, no matter what kind of shape we’re in. This is the quarter-finals and it’s a dream for us to come this far.”
As far as the Atleti skipper is concerned, her team’s “mental strength” and “ability to soak up pressure” could help them spring a surprise.
Lyon against the rest
Champions in the last four seasons, can Lyon make it five?
Losada was on the losing side when the French club beat Barcelona 4-1 in last year’s final and knows them well: “What sets them apart is their intensity on the pitch and their ability to work themselves into a position where they can dominate. They also have the experience of playing in so many Champions League finals. They’re clearly the team to beat.”
Though Sampedro also sees the French side as favourites, she believes there could be a surprise in store: “It would be good for football to have someone else win and for other teams to make an impact. I think this is going to be a very competitive Champions League, right from the quarter-finals. It’s going to be great to watch and it’ll get people talking for sure.”
As for Losada, is she hoping to avenge last year’s final defeat? “We’ve got Atleti first and we’re still in pre-season, in what is a difficult year, so we need to keep our feet on the ground,” she replied, before adding with a broad smile: “But if we could win the Champions League by beating Lyon, I would just love it.”
Did you know?
- Lyon are the dominant force in the competition, having won it for the last four years and on six occasions overall.
- Aside from the French giants, only two other teams in this year’s last eight have lifted the trophy: Wolfsburg, in 2013 and 2014, and Arsenal, in 2007.
- Barcelona finished runners-up in 2019 and PSG did likewise in 2015 and 2017, while Bayern have never gone further than the semis.
- Atletico Madrid are making their first appearance in the quarter-finals, while Glasgow City have only been this far once before, in 2014/15.
- Bilbao and San Sebastian, the two host cities for this final phase, boast long traditions when it comes to women’s football. Their respective teams, Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, have large and loyal followings.