Barcelona’s 3-0 demolition of Manchester City in the Women’s Champions League quarter-final first leg was a statement from the Spanish side. They mean business in this competition and are symbolic of Spain’s rise towards the elite level of women’s football.
The Women’s Champions League and its forerunner, the UEFA Women’s Cup, has been the domain of northern European clubs for nearly 20 years. French and German teams have won all but three of 19 titles, with the others taken by sides from Sweden (2) and England (1).
No clubs south of France have even reached a final, save for Barcelona in 2019. But they are not an anomaly and are on course to get to at least the semi-finals for the third season in a row.
On this form, they could even be the one to break the current French dominance and will face either Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain in the last four if they see out the rest of the tie against City.
Barcelona were superior from the first minute to the last against City. Their high press made it impossible for the WSL side, who have assembled a ‘dream team’ this season in a bid to win the Champions League themselves, to find any rhythm.
The game bypassed the likes of World Cup winner Sam Mewis, England striker Ellen White and reigning Best FIFA Women’s Player Lucy Bronze. On the flipside, Barca stars Asisat Oshoala, Caroline Graham Hansen, Mariona Caldentey, Alexia Putellas, Patri Guijarro and Mapi Leon gave polished performances. The Catalans didn’t even start with top scorer Jenni Hermoso.
It was Nigeria international Oshoala, the BBC Women’s Football of the Year in 2015, who opened the scoring and won the penalty that took the game beyond City, while Norwegian import Hansen had fans on social media drooling during her hour on the pitch. Yet Barca’s core is Spanish.
As many as nine of Spain’s national squad last month were selected from this Barcelona team, a team that hasn’t conceded more than a single goal in any game in any competition since losing the 2019 Champions League final, and has won all 20 league games in Spain so far this season.
Spain have been making up ground on Europe’s best national teams – Germany, France, England – for the last few years. They are still an outsider when it comes to the major tournaments, but it took two Megan Rapinoe penalties to knock them out of the last World Cup and will be a genuine dark horse by the time the delayed European Championship in England comes around in 2022.
But in the same way that France and then England improved over time to join Germany to be considered among Europe’s consistent elite nations, Spain too are bridging that gap and it will only be a matter of time before it closes. Barcelona’s rapid progress is a glimpse of that future.