Women’s Champions League Final : Frankfurt 2 – 1 PSG
PSG headed for Berlin on Thursday for their first ever appearance in the Champions League final. After a nervy semi-final second leg against Wolfsburg, PSG had held on to win 3-2 on aggregate. Three-time winners Frankfurt, meanwhile, had coasted in on a 13-0 aggregate win over Brondby, the second game featuring hat-tricks from Veronica Boquete and Celia Sasic, getting the German striker to 13 goals in 7 matches, only one away from the competition record.
Frankfurt’s attack was frightening, therefore, but their Bundesliga record suggested that their defence could be challenged – third in the Bundesliga, they had scored 74 but also conceded 19 in their 22 matches. If PSG’s defence could hold up, their opponents could be hit on the break.
There was a problem, however. 70 minutes into the semi-final second leg, PSG’s shield in front of the defence, Swedish international Carolina Seger, was booked, meaning she would be suspended for the final. This was compounded by the fact that Kheira Hamraoui, her natural cover, was also suspended having been pointlessly sent off at the end of the first leg. This left Farid Benstiti with a serious problem. The line-up for the final had Aurelie Kaci and Shirley Cruz Trana as the midfield pair, which caused some raised eyebrows. It looked like, in the absence of the usual defensive shield, PSG were going to try to go toe-to-toe with one of the best attacks in club football. Not really their style, but it so nearly worked.
The first half was one of Frankfurt domination – not necessarily of the ball, but certainly of the territory. Katarzyna Kiedrzynek made half a dozen saves in the opening half hour as PSG dealt with the relentless pressure, but she could do little about the towering header from Sasic that opened the scoring. This setback, far from killing PSG’s spirit, spurred them on to put Desiree Schumann in the FFC goal under real pressure for the first time, Kenza Dali with a long-range strike that forced a corner. She then put in the cross from which Marie-Laure Delie levelled the scores with a well-judged header.
All level at half-time, therefore. And the start of the second half also boded well for PSG, who hadn’t let their focus drift – as Frankfurt shot out of the traps with a couple of early chances, the defence continued to hold. The problem was further up the pitch: Fatmire Alushi, only recently back from injury, was anonymous, and Kosovare Asllani was struggling to get into the game. Delie was running onto throughballs, but not getting to them first, and when she did have the chance to put the ball into the box, rarely had someone to aim at. Benstiti needed to do something.
Around the hour mark, defenders Laura Georges and Josephine Henning, both only just back from injury, were brought on for Alushi and a knee-strapped Laure Boulleau, who limped off disconsolately. Sabrina Delannoy moved to rightback and Henning went to help out in deeper midfield, but this reorganisation didn’t really help with strengthening the supply line to the attack. Shortly afterwards, Frankfurt made their first change, bringing on fresh attacking legs in the form of Mandy Islacker for Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, and first Delannoy then Annike Krahn were booked for trying to keep a lid on Simone Laudehr up the left. Kiedrzynek continued to impress, but PSG were visibly tiring under the weight of their immense effort, while the Germans did not seem to be flagging. Dzsenifer Maroszan cut a constantly threatening figure, and veteran Kerstin Garafrekes brought all her experience to bear on making life as hard as possible for the Parisiennes.
As extra time approached, Benstiti blinked – the only attacking options on the bench were 18 (Anissa Lahmari) and 19 (Ouleymata Sarr) and perhaps he didn’t think they would be right in this high-pressure situation. But a change should have been made. Shortly after Krahn’s booking, Islacker blazed over the bar, but wasn’t letting it rest there – a poorly-dealt-with cross was headed straight up in the air by the PSG defence, fell luckily, and was finished with what at first glance looked to be a deflection. It wasn’t: Islacker had scored the winner in the 92nd minute with a perfectly-judged aile-de-pigeon lob into the far corner. Kiedrzynek slumped to the turf, stunned, as the Frankfurt players exploded with joy.
There were still two more added minutes to play, and when in the last of them PSG won a freekick, Sarr finally came on for Asllani, but it was too little too late. Cruz Trana just couldn’t connect with a cross from the left, however much she stretched. The whistle blew, and Frankfurt had won their fourth title.
As they celebrated, the PSG players dissolved in tears, Kiedrzynek cutting a particularly forlorn figure after all her hard work, and Delie being consoled by unused sub Linda Bresonik (who might also have come in useful, as the veteran knows how to put her foot on the ball and calm things the hell down). Compromised by the absence of Seger and several players clearly not being fully match-fit, they had still put in a stalwart and admirable performance.
First-time finalists against a team familiar with the deeper stages of this competition and a habit of beating their opponents into submission, PSG kept their focus and largely stayed calm, only to be done at the last by a moment of genius improvisation. It was cruel in its manner, but they can hold their heads high. Also, as they came second in Division 1 after putting together the most realistic challenge that Lyon have seen for several years, they get to try it again – older and wiser – next season.