Real Madrid sensed an upset before Barcelona came from behind to win their quarter-final first leg 3-1 with two late goals.
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UEFA Women's Champions League holders Barcelona will take a two-goal quarter-final cushion into their big day at the Camp Nou next Wednesday, but they were pushed all the way by a determined Real Madrid side who eventually succumbed 3-1.
The debutants led at half-time through Olga Carmona against a team they had never previously beaten, only for two Alexia Putellas goals, either side of a Clàudia Pina effort, to turn the game.
Match in brief: Holders show spirit
Barcelona will rarely face tougher tests than they did during the first half, and Madrid's energetic pressing paid off when Olga Carmona drilled a ruthless finish beyond Sandra Paños after eight minutes. Esther González struck a post with a fierce shot before the break, but Madrid could not extend their lead.
That edge disappeared when Alexia coolly dispatched a penalty to bring Barça level after 53 minutes following a foul on Caroline Graham Hansen. Substitute Pina's precise low strike with nine minutes remaining and Alexia's chipped effort in added time gave the reigning champions a healthy advantage to take to the Camp Nou.
"Graham Hansen turned the game around with her execution of her tasks. She was a threat on the right throughout the game. Her crosses are always accurate, superbly directed to wherever she wants to put them, and Real did not have an answer to that. She was constantly the route out when Barcelona could not find their way forward in the first half. Defensively, when needed she applied pressure deep in her own half, ensuring that Real Madrid could not enter the penalty box on her side."
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Joe Walker, Real Madrid reporter: A tale of what might have been. Madrid were Barcelona's equal for large swathes of the game, but ultimately they were made to pay by the European champions, who were ruthless when they needed to be. It's a steep learning curve at this level. They just couldn't see the game out and now have a mountain to climb in the second leg.
Alexandra Jonson, Barcelona reporter: The visitors got the victory, but it was a real struggle this time. At the start, it looked as if Barça thought only showing up would be enough to win the match, which Real Madrid made them suffer for. Barça came more into the game in the second half, and after Alexia's goal they dominated possession but still struggled against the Madrid defence. At times, we got to see the impressive, quick-passing game which Barcelona are known for, and that also brought the decisive goals in the end.
Alexia Putellas, Barcelona midfielder: "Real Madrid started very strongly. They had a lot of energy and pressed us in all areas of the pitch. They stopped us playing our game to a certain extent but we knew it would be very difficult for them to keep up that rhythm for 90 minutes. We just kept going and in the end we got a positive result."
Caroline Graham Hansen, Barcelona forward: "I think the whole team showed a lot of character today. Madrid did a really good job in the first half. They showed that they had nothing to lose and they were ready to fight. They deserved to be 1-0 up at half-time. In the second half we showed our character, we showed that we are more than just pretty football."
Alberto Toril, Real Madrid coach: "Up until the penalty, I liked what I saw from my team. I think we were superior, but after the penalty it was a completely different game. It gave them a boost and it affected us mentally a bit. In the end it's a match that got away from us, but all we can do is keep going."
Esther Gonzalez, Real Madrid forward: "I think we played really well. I don't think the result reflects what happened out on the pitch. Of course, they're a great team, but we showed we're not too far away from them. We want to continue in this competition. There are still 90 minutes left to play and we're going to fight throughout those 90 minutes to try and progress to the next round."
- The opening goal gave Madrid their first-ever lead against Barcelona, in the teams' sixth meeting.
- Barcelona had not trailed in a game since 2 October 2021, in a game against Alavés which they eventually won 9-1. They had not been behind at half-time all season.
- Barcelona have now won 40 competitive games in a row, including all 35 this season.
- Alexia is up to seven goals (group stage onward) this season, one off leader Tabea Wassmuth.
- Pina scored her first UEFA Women's Champions League goal.
- Madrid are the first team to play in the quarter-finals in their debut season since Manchester City in 2016/17.
Real Madrid: Misa; Lucia Rodríguez (Kenti Robles 78), Peter, Rocío Gálvez (Ivana Andrés 66), Svava; Teresa Abelleira, Zornoza; Athenea del Castillo, Maite Oroz (Nahikari García 78), Olga Carmona (Møller 66); Esther González
Barcelona: Paños; Marta Torrejón, Andrea Pereira (Paredes 65), Mapi León, Ouahabi (Pina 46); Bonmatí (Syrstad Engen 85), Guijarro, Alexia; Graham Hansen, Hermoso, Rolfö
The second leg will be played at the Camp Nou on Wednesday 30 March at 18:45 CET, with a world-record women's club crowd expected. The winners face Arsenal or Wolfsburg in the semi-finals on 23/24 April and 30 April/1 May.