The quarter-final tie which throws together Birmingham City Ladies and Arsenal Ladies is anticipated with some relish. It is the first time in the history of the UEFA Women’s Champions League that two English teams have faced each other.
The competition began back in 2001/02 involving 33 teams and was won by the home team 1. FFC Frankfurt of Germany. It was the last ever match to be played at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion in its 72 year history. The final was contested by two of Europe’s strongest teams, Umea IK from Sweden and the winners Frankfurt.
The following year was contested by two Scandinavian teams and the number of clubs entering increased to 35.
The final was now a two-legged affair and saw Umea IK lift the trophy. Arsenal reached the semi-final stage, losing 8-2 on aggregate to Fortuna Hjorring of Denmark.
In 2003/04 Umea IK became the first team to retain the trophy when the beat Frankfurt 8-0 on aggregate. Both teams played away from their usual stadiums in the final, Umea because Frankfurt did not want to play on an artificial pitch and Frankfurt because the demand for tickets was so high with their stadium capacity being only 15,000.
The 2006 final was an all-German final and set a new competition record attendance of 13,200 as Frankfurt lifted the trophy.
In 2007 the trophy came to England for the first and only time as Arsenal became the first team outside of Germany and Scandinavia to contest the final and they won it.
Clear outsiders against two time winners Umea IK, Arsenal won the away leg 1-0 with a last gasp winner and then held onto their aggregate lead in the return leg.
2008 saw a record attendance of 27,640 and 45 teams competing. Arsenal reached the semi-finals but the trophy was again won by a German team 1.FFC Frankfurt.
Up until 2008/09 the competition had been known as the UEFA Women’s Cup and this season it became the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Arsenal reached the semi-finals again and a new record attendance of 28,112 was set in the 2nd leg of the final as another German team FCR Duisburg took the crown.
In 2009/10, for the first time, the league runners up from the eight top-ranked nations were given entry alongside the champions, and 53 teams from 44 countries began the competition. The two- legged final was abolished and FFC Turbine Potsdam from Germany won a thrilling shoot- out in Getafe.
The 2011 final was held in England and was won by a French club for the first time by Olympique Lyonnais. Arsenal had lost to Lyon in the semi-final and 20,000 turned up for the opening leg. 14,303 braved the torrential rain at Fulham’s Craven Cottage to watch the final.
Lyon retained the trophy the following year in Germany in front of 50,212 fans at Munich’s Olympiastadion. Arsenal again reached the semi-final stage before losing to Frankfurt.
Last year’s final returned to England and saw Wolfsburg complete Germany’s 7th UEFA Women’s Champions League win in 12 editions at Stamford Bridge, defeating Lyon. Lyon had won the last 7 successive French championships without dropping a point.
And so for 2014. Arsenal reached the quarter-finals with a 6-2 aggregate win over Glasgow City, while Birmingham City had to travel further afield to defeat Russian side FK Zurkiy 7-2 on aggregate.
The two teams are frequent rivals for the FA Women’s Super League in which both compete, although Arsenal are no doubt the favorites in this tie.
Birmingham City were inaugural members of the 2011 FA WSL and came close to winning it at the first attempt, leading for most of the campaign before being overhauled by Arsenal. They also reached the final of the Continental Cup before again losing out to Arsenal.
Birmingham qualified for the 2012/13 Champions League for the first time in their history, due to their 2nd place finish. They were drawn against Italians Bardoline Verona and, after winning the first leg 2-0, lost in Italy after extra time.
In 2012 Birmingham City won their first FA Women’s Cup, beating Chelsea on penalties in the final and again finished 2nd in the FA WSL to qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League again.
Clear favourites Arsenal have won the FA Cup a record 12 times, including the double 8 times and 4 domestic trebles.
They have played in the UEFA Champions League 7 times, reaching the semi-finals twice. In 2006/07 Arsenal won all three domestic trophies and also the UEFA Women’s Champions League. On top of that they won the FA Women’s Charity Shield.
Being a big Birmingham City fan (and having played for them in the 80’s) I am hoping that we can overcome the odds and book a place in the semi-final where either Tyreso FF of Sweden or Austria’s SV Neulengbach, lie in wait. At least one English side is guaranteed to be in those semi-finals and I am hoping that they are wearing blue.
Birmingham have a star player in Karen Carney, who previously played for Arsenal in their Champions League winning side of 2007. Can Karen again lift the trophy, only this time for the Blue of Birmingham City?
The final will be held in Lisbon, Portugal on the 22nd May.
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