Birmingham City LFC will know they really have arrived in the UEFA Women's Champions League when they step out inside the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi in Verona on Wednesday.
With due respect to Stratford Town FC's homely DCS Stadium, where David Parker's debutants beat ASD CD Verona 2-0 in front of 211 spectators in last week's round of 32 first-leg meeting, it is not a ground that has hosted Serie A games or FIFA World Cup football.
Moreover, at the 39,211-capacity Bentegodi, Birmingham's players will encounter an atmosphere the kind of which few of their players will have experienced before, according to Verona's Swedish defender Maria Josefina Karlsson. The furthest Birmingham have travelled for a match before is Scotland and Karlsson, who has played in England for Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC, hopes the home crowd will help knock the visitors out of their stride.
I think for me what has been different from playing in Sweden and playing in England is the spectators in the stadiums in Italy – you hear them a lot cheering for the team and I love that," Karlsson told UEFA.com. "You can have 200 people in the stand but it sounds like 1,000. That could be a difference for them and hopefully it can lift us."
The Italian club normally play at the smaller Stadio Olivieri – where 250 spectators watched Saturday's 1-1 draw with AC Chiasiellis – and to attract a big crowd to the Bentegodi, have distributed 20,000 free tickets to schools and sporting associations in Verona. Whatever happens in the stands, though, will count for nothing unless former semi-finalists Verona improve on their performance in Stratford, where they succumbed to second-half goals from Rachel Williams and Kerys Harrop.
"We have to change how we play. [In the first leg] we didn't play as much as we want to," said Karlsson. "[It] was the game they wanted to play," she added, acknowledging that Birmingham had dictated the terms of a contest in which Verona barely threatened the home goal.
Noting that Verona had matched his own 4-4-2 in the first leg, Birmingham manager Parker expects a "different shape and way of playing" from the opposition this time, which could mean 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. He also anticipates "a different environment for our girls", adding: "I am sure it will be a hostile atmosphere."
Yet despite their lack of European experience as a team, he believes there is enough individual knowhow in a group whose 2-2 draw with Bristol Academy WFC on Sunday left them unable to catch Arsenal LFC but on the brink of UEFA Women's Champions League qualification for next season. "We have had players playing the [FIFA] U-17 and U-20 [Women's] World Cup and the full World Cup as well with Karen [Carney] and Rachel [Unitt] and 'Bass [captain Laura Bassett] as well.
They have experience as individuals so it's about bringing that together as a group."
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.