Blues Ladies were knocked out of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in heart-breaking fashion last night, losing 3-0 on the night to ASD CF Verona, meaning a 3-2 defeat on aggregate. A hat-trick from Cristiana Girelli, the winner coming in extra time, saw the former semi-finalists of this competition through to the last 16 phase. The Italian scored her first of the evening from the penalty spot in the first half, after being brought down by Blues centre half Emily Westwood. Her second came 11 minutes from the end, slotting the ball past a crowd of players and leaving Marie Hourihan with no chance in the Blues goal, and with penalties looming, Girelli scored a magnificent free kick to see the hosts through to face Swedish outfit Malmo in the next round.
Girelli’s match winning hat-trick aside, there was nothing between the two teams, with Blues creating as many, if not more goal scoring opportunities than their opponents, but where they are often so strong and lethal, their finishing touch deserted them on a night which should be remembered fondly by all involved with the club. For many within the team, this was their first match played for the club outside the British Isles, but nobody shirked away or looked fazed or daunted by the task ahead. Potter and Westwood were unlucky to hit the woodwork, and Izzy Christiansen was inches away from scoring the vital goal with a fabulous second half drive which was well tipped over by the Verona keeper Ohrstrom.
With the inexperience in the side, it needed a calm head to keep Blues fighting when their backs were against the wall, and it was an incredibly inspirational performance from captain Laura Bassett, who read the game superbly and showed passion and spirit in abundance, epitomised by her goal line clearance late in the game, which kept her side level at the time. It was the type of performance fans on BCLFC have come to recognise of the 29 year old, one which should see the leader as an England team regular, as opposed to a squad regular.
There was plenty of effort and spirit from the team, but maybe a recent gruelling campaign took its toll as the game wore on, but on a night when, in the end, Blues came away heartbroken and defeated, the experience of the last week will be invaluable for the team, and once the disappointment has died down, hopefully players and fans alike can take stock and think back with positive thoughts over what has been a magnificent season for them.
It was less than 6 months ago that Bassett lifted the club’s first ever F.A. Women’s Cup aloft at a sun-soaked Ashton Gate, and barring a goal difference swing of epic proportions, Bassett and her side will be once again pitting their wits against Europe’s finest next season. They have competed on all fronts this season, have taken Arsenal to the penultimate game of the season in the WSL, and they still have the chance to win their second silverware of the season when they take on the Gunners at Underhill on Wednesday night for the Continental Cup. This is a re-run of last season’s final, in which Laura Harvey’s team ran out 4-1 winners, so Blues will be very keen to exact revenge and come out on top in terms of trophies won this season against their main rivals.
So with two games left of the 2012 season, whatever happens, the season has been a huge success for a club which very nearly went out of business seven years ago. With a number of promising youngsters making first team squads this year, and more developing their skills in the club’s centre of excellence, the future looks very bright for Birmingham City Ladies Football Club.