In round one of the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL), Slavia matched up against one of the most feared clubs in all of women’s soccer: Lyon.
Slavia has done well in their domestic league so far. They have ten wins in ten games, including a win over their rival: Sparta. Lyon, however, is unlike any other team they play regularly.
“Olympique Lyon is among the top 3 teams in Europe, possibly the world. This is why we play. To play against the best in the world,” said Slavia team captain Diana Bartovičová before the match.
Lyon has some of the world’s best players—Wendie Renard, Lindsey Horan, and Ada Hegerberg—headlining the team with eight total Champions League wins, double the amount of next-best Frankfurt, though Slavia should not be written off so quickly.
In last year’s Champions League group stage, Slavia held eventual runner-up, Wolfsburg, to a 0-0 draw. Slavia took one shot to Wolfsburg’s 35 and only a mere 44% pass completion percentage.
“We are stronger than last year,” said manager Karel Piták. “Our goalkeeper is in good form, and she is ready for this game.”
Last year, Lyon did not look as unbeatable as they did in years past. The reigning champions took second place in the group stage and were knocked out by Chelsea in the quarterfinals—a disappointing result by their standards.
Lyon has improved after permanently signing World Cup winner Lindsey Horan, the top scorer in the French League, Kadidiatou Diany, and one of the top young players, Melchie Dumornay.
It will be an uphill battle for Slavia against Lyon, and they are well aware of it. Slavia will have to play Lyon twice, once at home and again in France. They also have to play two teams that have won their respective leagues, Norwegian Brann and Austrian St. Pölten, though Manager Piták is ambitious and ready for the challenge.
“Score more goals, get more points, and my last goal is to qualify from this group,” said Piták.
Lyon did not treat Slavia lightly. Manager Sonia Bonpastor chose a starting lineup littered with the best players at her disposal. Ten of her 11 players had represented their countries at a World Cup.
A quick goal by Lyon’s Sara Dabritz after only 3 minutes, following quick passes on the left wing, was the start of a nightmare for Slavia. It seemed that, just as Slavia gained possession, ten seconds later they lost it.
Corner kicks are especially dangerous when it comes to Lyon, Slavia manager admitted after the game.
Slavia was saved from going 2-0 down by the offside flag after unsuccessfully clearing their lines. Two minutes later, Diany put in a cross that found the sliding foot of Danielle van de Donk. As if written by fate, it then began to rain inside Eden Arena—the start of Slavia’s ‘downpour.’
By minute 16, it was 3-0 off of another corner. By minute 21, it was 4-0, after a pinpoint cross by Van de Donk that didn’t even require Lyon’s Eugenie Le Sommer to move. Diani scored the fifth just four minutes later. Five different Lyon players found the back of the net in the first 25 minutes.
Slavia’s first shot, from 25 yards out, bounced tamely in front of the goal and was met with an uproar from fans. They were just as loud in the 31st minute when it seemed that Renard blatantly pushed the oncoming attacker in the back. It went uncalled.
It was a merciful and quiet 15 minutes for Slavia. Slavia’s first promising attack tested Lyon’s goalkeeper Christiane Endlers, if only minutely, and resulted in the first yellow card of the game for Diany.
Lyon ended the half with yet another goal off of a corner. It was disappointing for Slavia as they began to gain their footing in the previous 20 minutes.
In the first five minutes of the next half, Slavia looked like a different team. They dominated possession near the Lyon box, and it took a strong sliding block to prevent Endler from having to make another save. They kept Lyon at bay for 15 minutes until another two goals were conceded.
“In the dressing room at the break, we tried to motivate ourselves and did not give up. We wanted to play differently and show something that would please your fans who came to support us,” said Slavia captain Bartovičová.
Despite the 8-0 deficit, Slavia kept the energy up. Their best opportunity came right after they conceded the eighth goal. Haleigh Stackpole sent a shot that forced a diving save at her near post. It was quiet until the 80th minute, when Vanessa Gilles, a center back, got her brace and made it 9-0.
The final whistle blew on a night that everyone knew was coming, though they didn’t want to see it. David fell to Goliath, and big brother beat little brother.