Women's Football

Potsdam claim pole position against injury-hit rivals

Turbine Potsdam are just 90 minutes away from the greatest success in their history after a deserved 2-0 UEFA Women's Cup final first leg victory in Sweden against Djurgården/Älvsjö. Coach Bernd Schröder's side now approach the return at the Karl-Liebknecht stadium in Babelsberg next Saturday in a commanding position.

A disappointing crowd of just 1,352 including UEFA President Lennart Johansson witnessed a nervous start from both European final newcomers. The home side were decimated by injury, losing star striker Victoria Svensson to a niggling torn thigh muscle and also lacking Svensson's regular strike partner Sara Johansson. To rub salt in the wound, Finland international Laura Kalmari was cup-tied.

Coach Mikael Söderman instead ordered Venus James and 147-cap Sweden veteran Kristin Bengtsson into attack. Turbine fielded their tried-and-trusted 3-4-3 Bundesliga formation with the emphasis on an all-international forward line featuring Petra Wimbersky, Conny Pohlers and Anja Mittag.

The first chance fell to the visitors as Pohlers spun away from her marker on the edge of the box only to see her fifth-minute effort shave the post. However, the Stockholm outfit struck back on 12 minutes as Elin Ekblom directed an angled pass towards Bengtsson, but the makeshift striker's shot whistled narrowly wide.

The Germans were enjoying the better of the possession and Pohlers miskicked with the target beckoning on 24 minutes following a slick one-two between Wimbersky and Mittag. However, the 33-time Germany international went one better 10 minutes later: Viola Odebrecht won a crucial challenge in midfield and launched a diagonal ball forward, where defender Sara Thunebro fluffed a clearance out to the left wing and the waiting Jennifer Zietz. Pohlers collected Wimbersky's return pass and slid home the 34th minute opener from close range. 

Bengtsson declined a superb opportunity to equalise from the very next move after the Potsdam rearguard momentarily lost concentration, but in-form keeper Nadine Angerer pulled off a fine reflex save, before beating out Bengtsson's 15-metre shot on the turn a minute later.

The game entered a scrappy phase after half-time but Potsdam soon broke forward to clinch a decisive second, Mittag bursting down the right flank before cutting inside and unleashing a fine left-foot drive to double the advantage on 53 minutes. Bengtsson cut a lonely figure up front for the Swedes as former Carolina Courage striker James, hampered by the after-effects of flu, failed to make an impression.

Nonetheless, the comfortable lead affected the visitors' concentration and Djurgården/Älvsjö saw more of the ball, without creating much by the way of clear-cut openings. Zietz made a good saving tackle as James threatened to emerge from her shell a quarter of an hour from time, before Pohlers drilled narrowly wide up the other end from the influential Mittag's fine build-up play. Navina Omilade could have put the tie beyond doubt on 84 minutes but fired against the upright.

Brazil starlet Cristiane celebrated her 20th birthday with a ten-minute appearance as substitute but was unable to make an impression. Inken Becher collected a second booking of the competition in the last minute and misses the return in front of her home crowd in Potsdam. Bengtsson almost crowned a battling display with two minutes remaining but curled a free-kick over the bar.

Potsdam boss Schröder was in upbeat mood as he contemplated the return in six days: "I think we have a great chance, although we still have a match to negotiate. But if we can maintain our consistency we could win the European Cup. I'd say we have one hand on the trophy."

Goalscorer Pohlers echoed the coach's comments. "We definitely have room for improvement. We could have scored a goal or two more. It will be a great game in front of our home crowd next week."

Djurgården/Älvsjö coach Söderman insisted his side should not be written off yet. "Obviously it'll be tough, but if we can score first in the return, it'll be wide open again." The 31 year-old's hopes have a name: Victoria Svensson. The world-class striker should be fit for next Saturday's return

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