"We have made club history today," Kirsty Linnett told UEFA.com as Birmingham City LFC progressed past Arsenal LFC who, Kelly Smith conceded, were outplayed.
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Birmingham City LFC goalscorer Kirsty Linnett, captain Karen Carney and manager David Parker all expressed their joy after winning 2-0 at Arsenal LFC and 3-0 on aggregate to clinch their first ever spot in the UEFA Women's Champions League last four. The visitors underlined the quality in their ranks, despite the young age of their team, as they set up a tie with Sweden's all-star Tyresö FF. Arsenal skipper Kelly Smith and manager Shelley Kerr conceded that they had been outplayed in both legs, meanwhile.
Kirsty Linnett, Birmingham forward
I am absolutely delighted. We have made club history today so everyone's ecstatic. To get a goal just tops the whole competition off for me; to get into the semis is amazing. My personal performance, I'm happy with it, but it's about the team. We worked so hard for each other – I'm so happy.
It's a credit to all our team. They are so young: our back four has an average age of 20 years old, I'm 20, our winger's 19 – we are a really young team. But we just worked so hard for each other, listened to each other, let the older ones tell us what to do. They pulled us together, and we performed like that.
We've got so many youth England international players, we've just learnt so quickly. Jess [Carter] has played two games for us now; you couldn't tell out there.
[Playing teams like Tyresö] is what the Champions League is about. Marta I've looked up to my whole career, so I can't wait to play against her; we'll go guns blazing with nothing to fear. I can't wait; we are the underdogs, and that's our favourite [billing]. Everyone's just written us off for this season, but we've proved out there we are not underdogs any more.
Karen Carney, Birmingham forward
I don't think it's sunk in yet, but we thoroughly deserved it. In both legs we were outstanding. It was a massive team effort. We gave a lot of respect to Arsenal, we did our homework, we worked our socks off – we definitely deserved it.
Age doesn't matter, I've been saying that for months. Everyone was writing us off and saying we'd lost players, and we had. But these youngsters are unbelievable, they have my 100% backing and I believe in them so much, I see it week in, week out in training. And what they have done today is no surprise to me, the team or the staff. And now we will go on and push on and some of them will go very, very high.
Before these two fixtures, people wrote us off, said we were relegation favourites, said we had lost players, and we weren't good enough... We've proved a little point today, but there is still a lot more to prove. There's definitely fight in me, there's fight in the girls and the staff as well.
David Parker, Birmingham manager
It was very, very professional. Going up 2-0 at half-time, the dressing room was very excitable, to say the least. It was about being professional in the second half and we wanted to keep that clean sheet, just for us, for our own peace of mind and our own professionalism.
Playing against two World Cup winners [Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga], Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey, Dani Carter... Those are some of the best players in the world, let alone Europe. And we've had a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old, a couple of 23-year-olds keep them out. That doesn't show their age, as we've always preached in this football club – if you are good enough, you are old enough. That back five today proved they are more than good enough.
It does [spur you on when] people say you are favourites for relegation at the start of the Super League because of the five so-called big names that we lost. But look at the kids out there today, kids that have come off the bench, if you can tell me they haven't got quality and can't compete in Europe, people need their eyes checking. We always knew how good this squad was. We always knew how great they could be. There's a long way to go yet and they will develop over many, many years. Keeping this group together, hopefully they will be superstars in their own right.
The first goal, the away goal, was so, so crucial. We had to get it, and to get it in the first 25 minutes of the game, you can see from absolutely everyone how much that swung the tie, because we knew Arsenal had to get three – if we do our job properly, and do what we did on Monday night, they won't get three against us. Then to get the second, you've got to score four in 45 minutes against that defence we've spoken about.
[In Tyresö] we will be playing against world superstars. It's another level, and we'll have to prove ourselves again.
Kelly Smith, Arsenal forward
Full credit to Birmingham, they were the better team over two legs. I don't think we really turned up, which is really disappointing; you get to this stage of the competition and you want to progress. Just frustrating really, not good enough all over the park. We said that after the first leg, we weren't at the races, and today we had an opportunity to perform and we didn't in the first half, and conceded early, so it was always going to be an uphill struggle to get back into the game.
[Birmingham] are very well drilled and well organised by the management staff in Marcus [Bignot] and David Parker. They had a game plan and stuck to it and they deserved to go through.
We are out of the competition now, but I have got 90 minutes under my belt ahead of the new campaign; that is the only plus that has come out of today. The focus now is our opening game against Notts County. We have got to forget about this, train hard and move on.
Shelley Kerr, Arsenal manager
The first thing I would like to say is a huge congratulations to Birmingham. I thought over the two legs they thoroughly deserved to be in the semi-finals. What they did so better than us was they did the basics well, they fought for every ball, they were committed, they had hunger, they had desire. In saying that, today our goalkeeper hasn't had a save to make but that's football. We've just got to move on quickly. We are really disappointed, but all credit to Birmingham.
[Although Arsenal's team changed a lot in the winter] Birmingham have had a lot of new players in as well, and inexperienced players. They've done a fantastic job. No complaints.
We've got to get ready [for the new English season]. When you've seen our performance over the two legs, we were not good enough to win the competition. We need to put that behind us and be ready for the [FA Women's] Super League starting, which is your bread and butter. We need to go back to the drawing board and make sure that we are better.