Barcelona claim throne as Europe’s dominant women’s football force

For years Barcelona have looked up at Lyon, the established elite at the top of the women’s game, working intensely to surpass them.

The Catalans finally avenged final defeats by Lyon in 2019 and 2022 on Saturday in Bilbao, beating the French giants 2-0 to lift the Champions League for the third time.

They still trail Lyon’s all-time record of eight — that could take years to overhaul — but there is no doubt that Barcelona are the dominant force in Europe.

With back-to-back Champions League triumphs, three in four years, and five finals in the last six, the Catalans reign supreme.

Aitana Bonmati and Alexia Putellas scored the goals against Lyon at the San Mames stadium.

They pair are the owners of the last three Ballon d’Or wins between them but have a vast array of talent in support.

Their squad includes stars brought in from abroad like Lucy Bronze, formerly of Lyon, and Caroline Graham Hansen, but also significant home grown quality.

Barcelona’s youth academy is creating potential stars in a way made possible by earlier investment in women’s football.

Beating Lyon was one of the few challenges left for Barcelona, along with completing the quadruple after last season’s treble. They did both in one swoop before 51,000 fans, a record Champions League final attendance.

Barcelona supporters, the vast majority of spectators, whistled Lyon fiercely at the start but applauded them generously as the French club collected their runner-up medals.

If it was a changing of the guard, Barcelona were reluctant to admit it.

“Eight Champions Leagues is a lot of Champions Leagues,” said Barcelona’s departing coach Jonatan Giraldez.

“What I like is living in the present moment — we had some room to improve from last year, we didn’t win the Copa de la Reina (then).

“History will say if we are one of the best teams, or if it’s Olympique Lyon. We saw a super interesting game, people enjoyed it, it was a high-level game.”

The coach, moving next season to US side Washington Spirit, added: “In years, this Barca will be put into perspective, today is a day to enjoy.”

– ‘Next year we have to compete again’ –

Barcelona playmaker Bonmati said she did not encourage talk of the club dominating.

“We’ve been showing for years the team that we are, obviously today we are champions of Europe for another year, Lyon are still a great team,” Bonmati told reporters.

“Next year we have to compete again, I don’t like to talk about a hegemony beginning, we have to prove it every year.”

However, that kind of attitude is how dynasties are created.

Bonmati was thrilled by Barcelona’s vast travelling support, with an estimated 40,000 fans coming to Bilbao. She called on them before the game to be the team’s 12th player and they delivered.

“What we saw in Bilbao, San Mames, it’s been something unique and unrepeatable,” said Bonmati.

“All I could think was that we cannot fail. What hurt most about the finals we lost… was all the fans going there. I would like to dedicate this trophy to the fans.”

In 2022, Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg pointed out there was women’s football “before” Barcelona, in response to the huge crowds the Catalans were attracting, setting two world record attendances at Camp Nou.

Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor said Barcelona’s “passion” was something other teams could learn from and that it “made a difference” in the final.

“The reality is that Barcelona have taken two consecutive trophies as European champions,” she explained.

“Their dynamic is extremely positive, not just because of their results but because they have so many supporters in the stadium. We need to be inspired by that.”

AFP

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