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UEFA Women's Champions League group stage preview: Kharkiv vs Real Madrid

Kharkiv, in the last 16 of this competition for the first time, begin their Group B adventure against a Real Madrid side making their European debut.

Kharkiv players celebrate reaching the group stage
Kharkiv players celebrate reaching the group stage

Kharkiv, in the last 16 of this competition for the first time, begin their Group B adventure against a Real Madrid side making their European debut.

The Ukrainian champions, who secured their tenth league crown overall last term and third in four campaigns, eased through Round 1 by beating Bulgarian title-holder NSA Sofia (5-1) and Pomurje Beltinci (4-1), who finished top of the Slovenian Women's League in 2020/21.

Valentyna Kotyk’s team then despatched Apollon 5-2 on aggregate in Round 2 (2-1 a, 3-1 h) to clinch a spot in the very first group stage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Las Blancas, one of three clubs making their UEFA competition bow in this season’s tournament, secured their place by virtue of their runners-up spot in the Primera División last season – their best-ever league finish.

David Aznar’s outfit made it through to the inaugural group stage by overcoming 2020/21 quarter-finalists Manchester City with a narrow aggregate victory in Round 2 of qualifying. The Spanish side recovered from going behind to Caroline Weir’s strike in Madrid thanks to a first-leg leveller in added time from Kenti Robles, and triumphed in the return fixture courtesy of Claudia Zornoza’s goal.

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Ones to watch - Kharkiv

Daryna Apanashchenko

The 35-year-old can boast previous experience of playing in the showpiece match of this competition, having been a runner-up with Russian side Zvezda Perm in 2008/09 under its old guise of the UEFA Women’s Cup, where she netted in the away legs of both their last four encounter and also the final.

The forward’s involvement in the tournament even dates back to the first campaign 20 years ago, with Legenda Chernigov.

She returned to Ukrainian domestic football in 2018 after plying her trade in Russia for 14 years, winning a total of eight league titles combined across both countries.

The Ukrainian international played every minute of the four matches in the qualifying campaign.

Olha Boychenko

The 32-year-old joined Kharkiv in December 2019 following a spell playing in Russia, where she scooped two titles with Zvezda Perm and also lifted the Russian championship in 2016 with Rossiyanka.

The midfielder netted a goal in all four qualifiers ahead of this inaugural group stage, with only Olha Ovdiychuk (five) scoring more for the club in the preliminary rounds this term.

It had been suggested that the Ukrainian international was going to call time on her playing career for her country following the encounter against Northern Ireland in April but she returned to the side last month, scoring the winner in the 1-0 defeat of Turkey.

Olha Ovdiychuk

The 27-year-old is in her second spell with the club, rejoining in the summer of 2020 following a season in the Spanish capital with Real Madrid’s neighbours Atlético.

The forward won clinched her seventh Ukrainian title-winners’ medal with Kharkiv in 2020/21, to go with the six she collected in seven years before leaving to play in the Primera División in 2019.

The striker netted in all four of Kharkiv’s qualifiers ahead of this group stage, notching a total of five goals.

The Ukrainian international has been the top markswoman in the Ukrainian Women's League on four occasions, the last when she bagged a total of 30 goals in the 2018/19 campaign.

Ones to watch - Real Madrid

New Women’s Champions League format explained

Ivana Andrés

The defender joined Las Blancas in 2020 after two years with Levante along with team-mate Marta Corredera.

The Real Madrid skipper also wore the armband towards the end of her nine-season spell with Valencia, where she was part of the side that were Copa de la Reina runners-up in 2014/15 and achieved a third-place finish in the Spanish top-flight in 2016/17 – their best league campaign to date.

The centre-back started 31 of her club’s 34 league matches last term – no Real Madrid outfield player made more.

The Spanish international was part of the nation’s squad at both the 2015 and 2019 FIFA World Cups, and was a UEFA Women’s Under-17 Championship winner in successive years with La Roja (2010 & 2011).

Nahikari García

The forward was the first Real Madrid signing of the summer when she signed in July from first club Real Sociedad.

The 24-year-old spent over seven seasons with the San Sebastián outfit, where she netted over 100 goals in all competitions.

The forward scored the winning goal as Real Sociedad secured their first major honour, the 2019 Copa de la Reina courtesy of a 2-1 victory against Atlético Madrid.

The Spain international, who represented her country at the 2019 FIFA World Cup, was a runner-up with her country on five occasions at major tournaments at youth level.

Kenti Robles

The 30-year-old joined Real Madrid from city rivals Atlético in 2020, having previously plied her trade for both Espanyol (over two spells) and Barcelona.

The full-back won the Primera División in three campaigns in a row with Atleti (2016/17 to 2018/19), having also achieved that feat in her trio of seasons with the Blaugranes (2011/12 to 2013/14).

The defender netted the added-time equaliser in the 1-1 qualifying 1st leg home draw against Manchester City on 31 August – Las Blancas’ first-ever goal in UEFA competition.

Her strike against the Women’s Super League side was only her second goal in the competition. The first also came against the Cityzens – another late leveller in a first leg home draw, on that occasion for Atlético Madrid in the 2018/19 round of 32.

Key stats

Top five goals of the 2020/21 UEFA Women's Champions League

• Kharkiv have won all of their previous four UEFA Women’s Champions League matches this season (F14 A4)

• Kharkiv won the 2020-21 Ukrainian title and have now been the national champions of Ukraine in eight of the last 11 seasons

• Kharkiv have never reached the last 16 of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in any format of the competition so this is their best ever performance

• Kharkiv striker Olha Ovdiychuk has scored in each of their previous four European matches this season

• Runners-up in the Spanish league in 2020-21, Real Madrid are featuring in the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the first time ever this season

• Real Madrid earned a place in the group stage of the 2021-22 UEFA Women’s Champions League with a notable 2-1 aggregate win against twice UWCL semi-finalists Manchester City in round two

Group stage: all you need to know