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Som-Hi, Barcelona’s Time to Shine

Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmatí (R) celebrates scoring a goal with her teammates while Chelsea’s Sjoeke Nüsken (L) looks down in disappointment / SportsMax

On Saturday, April 27th 2024, in the heart of a rainy evening in London, Chelsea Women’s football team battled the unbeatable Barcelona Femeni at Stamford Bridge in the second-leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final.

On Saturday, April 27th 2024, in the heart of a rainy evening in London, Chelsea Women’s football team battled the unbeatable Barcelona Femeni at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final. Over 35,000 tickets sold along with 39,398 people counted clocking into the stadium through the gates (The Telegraph, 2024). Not the first women’s football match to be played in the history of the sport, yet certainly a record breaking attendance level for a Chelsea Women’s home team match in its 35 years of existence. All to have their party crashed by the inevitable Aitana Bonmatí. Heading into an away match in a foreign country, the odds did not seem to be in Barcelona’s favour. But they say to create your own luck, and that magic touch came with two goals from Bonmatí and Fridolina Rölfo. Truly a spectacle to behold while Barcelona wore banana colored kits and Chelsea defended their territory wearing all blue.

Both respective head coaches of Barcelona Femeni (Jonatan Giráldez) and Chelsea Women (Emma Hayes) will be saying farewell at the end of the 2023/24 season, as Giráldez has raised two UEFA Women’s Champions League final trophies and Hayes has made it to one UEFA Women’s Champions League final and dominated the domestic Barclays WSL in England. So, with that in mind, this second leg semi-final meant so much more. In the first leg, Chelsea Women traveled to Barcelona to play at the iconic Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys and astoundingly took the home crowd by surprise. A goal by Scottish international Erin Cuthbert led the Blues to an almost light at the end of the tunnel. All they needed to do was hold a lead of 1-0, score more, or prevent Barcelona from netting two. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the Catalan custom is to always come out on top.

Stamford Bridge / BBC

At kickoff, the match stared with a roar from the crowd and an energy reverberating that could be felt from abroad. In the first half, Chelsea started off strong with 4 shots, including 1 shot on target, and 133 accurate passes completed. Regarding possession, Barcelona dominated forty-five minutes of 63% ball control, with 4 corners taken, and despite young goalkeeper Hannah Hampton’s efforts, Aitana Bonmatí slotted a shot as smooth as butter into the corner of the net in the 25th minute. Chelsea weren’t without holding their breaths as well, while midfielder Melanie Leupolz rocked the crossbar so hard it should have burned a hole through metal. Going into half-time, the stakes were give or take, do or die. If no team managed to score after regulation time, the match would continue with two 15-minute halves of overtime and if not then, by a doomed penalty shootout.

Whatever must have been said by coaching staffs in the locker rooms worked. The tide turned when Chelsea defender Kadeisha Buchanan was given a red card (as an accumulation of two yellow cards) by Romanian referee Iuliana Demetrescu. Because of this decision, Chelsea were forced to continue play with one woman down, having 9 field players instead of 10. Regarding this verdict, when the match was over and during a presser, Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes did not shy away from her feeling that she felt as if Chelsea were “robbed” as a result. (BBC, 2024). Not only Buchanan’s red card, but in the 75th minute, Barcelona were granted a penalty in which Sweden’s own Fridolina Rölfo took with pleasure. Boom. 2-0 in a sold out Stamford Bridge. And the home team was losing. Chippy and physical play continued until the final whistle was blown, and with that final blow, Barcelona Femeni qualified for an opportunity to capitalize on their 3rd UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy.

Despite the result, or how officiating swayed this way or that, match attendance for women’s football continues to bud from Spain to England. Hopefully this phenomenon of spectator interest in women’s football can remain consistent, with elite level football being played in tournaments such as the UEFA Women’s Champions League. As a matter of fact, tickets on the official Barcelona website for the final to be played in Bilbao on May 25th have already sold out for Femeni supporters. Looking right into the face of France’s Olympique Lyonnais, there is nothing that a team with a castle to defend can’t conquer.