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Asia’s elite bidding for European glory

Kuala Lumpur: Europe’s most prestigious women’s club football competition, the UEFA Women’s Champions League, is poised for a thrilling finale, and some of Asia’s biggest stars will be in the thick of the action.

A full 10 months after the completion of the Round of 16, the race for continental glory will finally resume in Europe, with the last eight clubs to battle for the title in a centralised knockout tournament in Spain.

With all four of the quarter-finals featuring a player or coach from an AFC member nation, examines the contenders ahead of Friday’s kick-off.

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Joined by Carpenter, Kumagai chases title number five

Olympique Lyonnais (FRA) v Bayern Munich (GER)
Saturday - San Mamés, Bilbao

One of the most decorated Asian footballers in history in terms of major trophies won, 2019 AFC Women’s Player of the Year Saki Kumagai is hoping to reach unchartered territory in the next two weeks with a fifth consecutive European club title.

As part of the all-conquering Lyon outfit - who warmed up for their trip to Basque Country with wins over PSV (4-0) and Juventus (3-0) in a friendly tournament last week – Japanese captain Kumagai is once again considered an odds-on favourite to lift the trophy alongside a bevy of the game’s brightest stars.

Joining Lyon’s title defence is Australian right-back Ellie Carpenter. The 20-year-old Matildas star made substitute appearances against both PSV and Juventus, setting up a goal in the former, and will look to leave an impression in her first competitive taste of European football.

Australian interest in this fixture would likely have also centred around Emily Gielnik had it taken place on its originally scheduled date of March 25. The Matildas forward was an occasional member of the Bayern side during their 2019-20 campaign but has since transferred to Vittsjö GIK in Sweden.

‘AUSenal’ look to take down PSG

Arsenal (ENG) v Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Saturday - Anoeta Stadium, San Sebastián

Australian head coach Joe Montemurro was the chief reason for Arsenal’s inclusion in earlier editions of this column, but the London club are now the subject of heightened attention Down Under since signing no less than three first-team Matildas since the turn of the year.

Caitlin Foord joined the club in early 2020, playing only a handful of games before COVID-19 interrupted, and ultimately ended the FA Women’s Super League season, while goalkeeper Lydia Williams and full-back Steph Catley (pictured below) joined in the summer.

Despite the heroics of star Dutch striker Vivianne Miedama, Arsenal failed to qualify for the 2020-21 edition of the Women’s Champions League by virtue of their league position, meaning they must win the title if they are to appear in next season’s tournament.

Standing in their way are Paris Saint-Germain. Once the home of Chinese star Wang Shuang, the Parisian outfit have often lived in the shadow of domestic rivals Lyon, but the current side boasts a string of top internationals from France and beyond.

Chidiac’s Atlético take on Barcelona

Atlético Madrid (ESP) v FC Barcelona (ESP)
Friday - San Mamés, Bilbao

There may also be an Australian flavour in an all-Spanish affair on Friday, when Alex Chidiac’s Atlético Madrid take on FC Barcelona.

Champions of Spain in 2019, Atlético were beaten to the title by a dominant Barca in the season just gone, with Lluís Cortés’ side going undefeated, scoring a whopping 86 goals and conceding only six in 21 matches.

An occasional member of the Australian national team, 21-year-old attacking midfielder Chidiac struggled for first team minutes last season, but is among the 22 Atletico players to have been registered for the final tournament.

Appearing at this stage of the tournament for the first time in club history, Atlético’s preparation has been impacted by COVID-19, with five players testing positive to the virus earlier this month.

Colvill’s Glasgow eye major upset

Glasgow City (SCO) v VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
Friday - Anoeta Stadium, San Sebastián

While some of Europe’s most storied football clubs are present in the final eight, Asia’s final contender comes from the only standalone women’s club still standing in the competition.

Aofie Colvill, a 19-year-old Australian youth international, is part of the squad for Glasgow City, the Scottish outfit who are also the only non-professional club in the final eight.

A former Canberra United forward, and the scorer of five goals in three matches during Australia’s bid to qualify for the 2019 AFC U-19 Championship, Colvill has joined Glasgow’s ranks since the Round of 16, where they scraped past Danish club Brondby on penalties.

Glasgow City are considered significant outsiders against Wolfsburg, who can boast 2018 UEFA Player of the Year Pernille Harder as well as several German national team mainstays.

Photos: AFP, Arsenal FC

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