Birmingham City LFC's UEFA Women's Champions League debut last season ended at the first hurdle – but a year on, winger Karen Carney is looking towards the quarter-finals.
Having beaten ASD CF Verona 2-0 in the 2012/13 round of 32, Birmingham lost the away return leg 3-0. However, this time they overcame PK-35 Vantaa 3-0 away and 1-0 at home, and on Saturday are in Russia for their round of 16 first leg at FK Zorkiy Krasnogorsk before Wednesday night's return at St Andrew's.
While Birmingham are relative European newcomers, their England attacker Carney has the experience of winning the former UEFA Women's Cup with Arsenal LFC in 2007 before a spell in the United States. Back at her local club where she began her career, Carney spoke to UEFA.com about the Zorkiy tie, facing Russian players with whom England drew 1-1 at UEFA Women's EURO 2013, and the difference in expectations between Birmingham and the Gunners.
UEFA.com: How does it feel to be through to the last 16?
Karen Carney: It's good. We were in the Champions League last year, we had a 2-0 lead and let it slip. This year we had the experience of getting that third goal in the away leg so we had that cushion when we came to the home leg – it took the pressure off. Now we go to Russia, we are very excited about that. It is a massive achievement for the club, one that we are all really pleased and proud of.
UEFA.com: How have you prepared?
Carney: We've been on international duty so we haven't had much time with our club. Birmingham have a detailed report on them – well, as best as we can because it is difficult in the Champions League to get hold of some data. But from playing Russia in the EURO and having a little bit of experience of Russian players, they are going to be very fast and aggressive and physical. It should be a really tough game.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to Birmingham to be in Europe and how different are the expectations compared with Arsenal, who were in the competition each year.
Carney: It's the first time we have got this far and as a team we want to keep progressing. At Arsenal it was different, we went on to win it and it was expected every year for Arsenal to get into the Champions League and progress to at least the quarters or the semis. At Birmingham it is just going out there and enjoying it and seeing how far we can go – testing ourselves as a team.
UEFA.com: Have Birmingham been helped by the strength of the FA Women's Super League this year, with both Arsenal and yourselves missing the top two?
Carney: The league has got more competitive with the number of foreign players coming in, that has definitely helped the level of football in the league. Our campaign was disappointing but we got to test a few of our youngsters who I think will come good in the next few years. We've gone into a transition period and will hopefully come out better for it. Hopefully the league being more competitive has helped us in the Champions League.
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