Three weeks ago, a record 91,533 fans came to watch the Uefa Women’s Champions League quarterfinal at the Camp Nou between Barcelona and Real Madrid. On Friday, that record was broken again. A whopping 91,648 fans came to the same venue to watch the hosts beat Wolfsburg 5-1 in the first leg of the semi-final.
For almost 23 years, officially most watched women’s football match had been the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China, which was watched by 90,185 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. That number has been comfortably crossed, twice, in the space of a few weeks.
And being at the centre of attention for the new record attendance certainly had its effect on the players.
“We will remember this as we grow old. It’s so special to experience a day like this,” said Barcelona midfielder Patricia Guijarro.
Wolfsburg’s captain Dominique Janseen added: “For women’s soccer, it’s extraordinary.”
Buoyed by the large numbers at the Camp Nou, the defending champions used the fans to their advantage. Especially if they wanted to change the way the results had been going for them against the German opposition – Barcelona failed to score in the last four meetings with Wolfsburg.
“One of the keys was to start off well and get the crowd involved. Both attitude and our level of play were the best we could give and the crowd pushed us on to do that. We had three chances in the opening five minutes, which helped us and demoralised the opponent,” said the Barcelona coach Jonatan Giraldez.
It took the hosts just two minutes to score the opener.
The Wolfsburg defenders failed to deal with a lofted ball from the Barcelona half, allowing Aitana Bonmati rush past and tuck home with ease.
Caroline Graham Hansen doubled the scoring in the 10th minute to finish off an excellent move. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic won the ball and cut it back to the Norwegian who rushed into the box from the right. She threw off a defender by pulling the ball onto the her left and unleashed a perfectly placed curling effort into the top corner.
Another quick-passing move in the 33rd minute saw Jennifer Hermoso add the third after receiving a pass from the right from Marta Torrejon. And then came the fourth, four minutes later.
This time it was Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas. She outsprinted the centrebacks to get onto a through-ball, and placed a shot under goalkeeper Almuth Schult.
Schult did get a touch that pushed the ball onto the post, but Putellas had followed up and tapped in to take the score to 4-0 at halftime.
Barcelona continued to attack in the second half, but it was Jill Roord who managed to find a consolation goal for Wolfsburg in the 73rd minute, finishing coolly from just inside the box.
By the 85th minute though, the hosts had regained the four-goal cushion with Putellas comfortably converting the penalty she had won.
The 5-1 win puts Barcelona in a commanding position ahead of the reverse leg in Germany on April 30. The winner will face the winner of the all-French semi-final between Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain in the final.
But with the solid win on Saturday, there’s almost no doubt that the Spanish team will have a shot at defending their title.
“It is quite clear that Barca can already plan their trip to the final,” said Wolfsburg coach Tommy Stroot. “Our job will be to show a different face.”