Is there any better tonic to the post-holiday blues than a full calendar of women’s footballing action? If there is, The Sportist is yet to find it and with the season now in full swing and the promise of international football now near on the horizon, the domestic and European landscapes make for intriguing times.
Finally, after what has felt like an interminable break, the 2013 FA WSL season kicked off properly at the weekend with two early-season fixtures setting a low-scoring but reliably interesting agenda for the season ahead.
Liverpool Ladies have largely dominated column inches in the build up to the new season, given their impressive close-season transfer activity and the side’s policy paid immediate dividends with a 1-0 away victory courtesy of ex-Everton striker Natasha Dowie’s first-half strike, the goal provided by fellow new signing Fara Williams’ incisive ball though Karen Bardsley on her Lincoln debut may feel she could have done more to keep out Dowie’s header. In truth, Dowie’s physical and intelligent forward presence proved more than a handful for Lincoln’s England centre-half pairing of Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley and the opening match victory for Matt Beard’s charges was well-deserved.
Debut striker goals were clearly the order of the weekend, with Chelsea’s new Swedish signing Sofia Jakobsson opening the scoring against 2012 runners up Birmingham with an instinctive side-foot finish. Birmingham didn’t have to wait long to equalise, however, and when Rachel Williams fluffed a relatively straightforward opportunity to draw her team level, the signs were ominous enough. With the half hour mark approaching, Williams duly made amends with a stunningly executed 25 yard drive which flashed high into the far corner of ‘keeper Carly Telford’s net. Both sides had chances to win with Chelsea’s Gardarsdottir rattling the bar from fully 35 yards and Birmingham’s Williams somehow contriving to miss an open goal, with a 1-1 draw at the final whistle probably a better result for a strengthening Chelsea side than an arguably weaker Birmingham team than the 2012 vintage.
Lincoln Ladies 0 – 1 Liverpool Ladies
Chelsea Ladies 1 – 1 Birmingham City Ladies
Champion’s League Semi-Finals
Since back-to-back WSL League Winners Arsenal Ladies defeated ASD Torres to reach the Champions League Semi-Finals, both media coverage and informed opinion had suggested that the route to the final, blocked only by German side Wolfsburg was a path of relatively simple progress.
Not so now, though, with Shelley Kerr’s side falling to a first defeat since she took charge ahead of the 2013 season with a 2-0 home defeat against the unfancied Germans.
In truth, Arsenal dominated proceedings yet were undone by goals against the run of play from Conny Pohlers and Martina Muller, leaving the Gunners with a mountain to climb if they are to reach the final against likely opponents Lyon.
With a resolute, if occasionally desperate and fortunate, defensive performance securing the clean sheet against an Arsenal side with goalscoring potency across the pitch, Wolfsburg will be confident of their own progress though it is unlikely that they will face an Arsenal side that begin as slowly as this one did in the return leg.
Having witnessed first-hand Wolfsburg’s clear ability to capitalise on chances on the break, however, Arsenal go to Germany knowing that they will in all likelihood need to score at least 3 to stand a chance of making May’s final.
Arsenal Ladies 0 – 2 VfL Wolfsburg Ladies
Olympique Lyonnais 3 – 0 FCF Juvisy Essonne
Better news for Arsenal’s Rachel Yankey in the international arena, where the Arsenal and England forward matched record cap holder Peter Shilton with her 125th international appearance against Canada.
Yankey is set to beat Shilton’s tally over the course of this year’s European Championships and despite her career entering its twilight years, at 33-years of age one suspects there is a good couple of seasons left for her to add to her international tally as yet. A true legend of the English game, regardless of gender.
The latest incarnation of league women’s football in the US kicked off at the weekend with a win for Sky Blue FC against Western New York Flash and draws between FC Kansas City & Portland Thorns FC, Chicago Red Stars & Seattle Reign FC and Boston Breakers & Washington Spirit.
The US has been both an innovator, driver and champion of the women’s game and also an administrative disaster and arguable drain on international talent pools over the course of its chequered existence to date. One hopes that this iteration of the sport proves a positive influence for women’s football on a global basis.
There’s also an utterly brilliant New York Times article from last week available here dedicated to USWNT and current Lyon playmaker Megan Rapinoe. Covering everything from life in Europe to sexuality and the subtle ways in which Rapinoe herself is redefining accepted wisdom on US women footballers it’s a truly brilliant read and comes highly recommended.
Ah, women’s football. It’s good to be back.
Image from bbc.co.uk/sport – thank you!