Birmingham City LFC have made a "perfect" start to life in the UEFA Women's Champions League according to manager David Parker, who was understandably delighted by their 2-0 victory against ASD CF Verona in the first leg of their round of 32 tie.
"It was an absolutely fantastic performance, I couldn't be more pleased," said Parker after his team prevailed on their tournament debut through second-half goals from Rachel Williams and Kerys Harrop. Williams struck in the 51st minute after Verona's defence failed to deal with Laura Bassett's cross into the box and she drove the loose ball past Stéphanie Öhrström. The second goal came in the 70th minute when Williams' shot was parried by Öhrström and left-back Harrop drove in the rebound. It might have been worse for a disappointed Verona side as Jodie Taylor poked a shot against a post in added time.
David Parker, Birmingham manager
I was really pleased at half-time – you don't know quite what to expect, there's only so much homework you can do on opponents [so] it was a case of sizing them up, judging the game, not giving anything silly away. Away goals will absolutely cost you in this competition and we wanted to make sure we got in at half-time without conceding. We controlled the first half, the second half [the game] got stretched a little bit more but we've taken our chances. Unfortunately we didn't get the third at the end which would have been absolutely the icing on the cake but we'll take 2-0 every time.
It is just a matter of enjoying ourselves – this is a great platform for Birmingham City to put ourselves on the map in Europe and we want more of that and hopefully to go through to the last 16. Three points on Sunday against Bristol will secure Champions League football for a second season running so everything's looking rosy.
Rachel Williams, Birmingham goalscorer
Not knowing a lot about them, we came out and were a bit wary of them, but the second half was a case of "look, the game's open, we need to go out there, do what we can do and press them", starting with me and Jodie as the front two. The wingers managed to get enough joy down the wings and we got a lot of joy in the air as well. I felt I should have had a couple [of goals] in the first half, I had chances with headers, but to get [the goal] in the second half, I loved it and I am happy for the club and the players.
Renato Longega, Verona coach
It was an even first half [but] in the second half we slowed down and conceded the first goal. After going two down we completely collapsed although fortunately we at least managed to stay in the tie.
Although it's 2-0, we can turn it around if we manage to play the way we can do. But today we deserved to lose – we weren't ourselves and it was an awful second half. We'd seen them, and knew about their physical power, the long balls to the forwards and balls into the box.
We'd prepared for that but we made too many mistakes and paid for that. It's clear they're favourites now, they've got the two-goal lead but we have a lot of quality that we didn't show today. We'll have to play in a completely different way – we have to play quickly, move the ball around and be more direct.
Melania Gabbiadini, Verona captain
I'm hugely disappointed. We just didn't play our normal game, we just kept hitting long balls. They're a good team, they pressed us a lot but our reaction was just to launch the ball forward. We didn't play to our potential. Two-nil is difficult but we know that we have to at least play our game in the second leg. We'll have to score quickly and impose our qualities from the start. They will sit back for sure and defend their advantage, which will make it even harder.