A bit of a departure for The Sportist‘s women’s football roundup this week as we’re going in-depth on the only two matches to happen since last week’s roundup. And what a pair of matches they were too.
The FA Cup Final
Arsenal 3 – 0 Bristol Academy
Going into yesterday’s FA Cup Final, such was the form of the two finalists coming into the match, that predictions of a maiden FA Cup victory for Bristol Academy were almost more widespread than those favouring the 11 times champions. As it was, normal service was well and truly resumed, with the cup heading back to North London at the end of a match whose complexion changed after just 90 seconds.
Coming into the game in relatively indifferent form, Shelley Kerr’s Arsenal side were looking to break the pattern which had seen them concede the first goal in four of their five previous matches. When the ball broke loose from a Bristol throw-in within the first minute, Steph Houghton’s clever ball found Rachel Yankey in acres of space on the left wing. Yankey’s cross was perfectly executed, swinging away from Bristol ‘keeper Siobhan Chamberlain, and finding Houghton, who had peeled away at the back post and was able to direct her header unchallenged into the Bristol net.
With Spanish striker Laura Del Rio deemed only fit enough for the bench, Bristol’s attempts to break down the Arsenal defence were largely neutered by the excellent Gilly Flaherty and Ciara Grant, though Emma Byrne in the Arsenal net betrayed some nerves in the early stages with a complete air kick almost gifting an equaliser to Bristol forward Natalia. With the game beginning to settle into a somewhat mundane routine, Arsenal might have doubled their lead but for an outstanding stop from Chamberlain, leaping to her right to deny Ellen White’s clever flicked shot from within the box. Minutes later, Jordan Nobbs came within inches of doubling the Arsenal lead. Picking the ball up on the edge of her own box from a Bristol corner, the midfielder’s direct run brought a shot which came back off the inside of the post and into Chamberlain’s arms.
With the score locked at 1-0, Bristol came close to equalising early in the second half through Jemma Rose’s free kick before the game took an unpleasant turn, Bristol’s promising midfielder Lucy Staniforth suffering what appeared to be a serious knee injury which brought the game to a halt for a full five minutes while she received treatment.
When the match eventually got back underway, Arsenal finally turned the screw in the 71st minute through Jordan Nobbs. Under little real pressure, Bristol captain Corinne Yorston lost the ball in the left back position to Arsenal’s Gemma Davison whose deep cross found Nobbs waiting at the back post. With the Bristol defence having all covered the centre of the box, Nobbs’ uncontested header was perfectly placed to give Arsenal a two goal lead.
Suddenly, with Bristol forced to push forwards, Arsenal’s counter-attacking brilliance came to the fore and having passed up one fine opportunity through Nobbs, the England midfielder set up the game’s final goal in the closing minutes, her powerful shot parried into the path of Ellen White who slammed the ball home from 5 yards.
Player of the Match – Jordan Nobbs
UEFA Women’s Champions League Final
Lyon 0 – 1 Wolfsburg
Football, it would seem, is a sport of German ascendancy. This week was always going to end with one German Champions League winner, Bayern Munich having emerged triumphant against domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday evening, but for the women’s trophy to fall to VfB Wolfsburg must count amongst the most significant shocks in the history of the competition.
And nor was it simply to do with the fact that this was a debut competition victory for the German champions. In any other circumstances, such a victory would have been impressive and noteworthy. But to win the premier continental competition against a Lyon side whose record for the 2012/13 season going into the math read P36 W35 D1 L0 was truly remarkable.
Remarkable and – in the end – well deserved. Where Lyon were cautious, disjointed and uncommonly uncertain, Wolfsburg were effervescent, disciplined and wonderfully marshalled. Gone were the spaces in which Lyon’s troupe of clever midfielders and forwards thrive, replaced by endless swathes of German pressure and blanket pressing. Ceding space and possession in the final third of the pitch, Wolfsburg’s diligence ensured that as soon as the ball approached the halfway line, suddenly two or three players were there to swamp the space. On more than one occasion in each half, Lyon were forced into hopeful balls over the top, a tactic which almost paid dividends, but appeared nonetheless symptomatic of their inability to play their way through Wolfsburg’s lines.
After an opening period in which Wolfsburg emerged at ferocious pace and may well have taken the lead twice in the opening minutes, Lyon nonetheless appeared to be gaining traction. With Megan Rapinoe and Elodie Thomis using pace and invention to attack down the wings, Lyon began to exert sustained pressure on the Wolfsburg defence. Yet somehow, the German side’s defence stood firm and going into the break at 0-0, they would have been entitled to consider the job half done.
Yet better was to come. With Lara Dickenmann replacing Rapinoe for Lyon at half time, suddenly Wolfsburg were finding more and more space on their right flank. Having absorbed wave after wave of Lyon attack, Wolfsburg broke forward and tossed a hopeful cross into the box. As the ball dropped, Lyon’s Laura Georges was contentiously adjudged to have handled, with veteran forward Martina Muller stroking home the penalty.
For the final 20 minutes, Wolfsburg continued to hold Lyon at a relatively comfortable arms length and may even have gone further ahead, but for a fine save from Laura Bouhaddi. In the end, their victory had a surprising degree of comfort and football, in 2013 at least, wears a German shirt.
Player of the Match – Nadine Kessler
Images from metro.co.uk & itv.com – thanks!