Winners of Wales's first national women's league title, Swansea City Ladies AFC have a European debut on Thursday and boss Ian Owen reports to UEFA.com from a confident camp.
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Swansea City Ladies AFC head into Europe for the first time this week after victory in the inaugural Welsh Premier Women's Football League, with manager Ian Owen promising: "We want to win."
Before this season the Welsh entry to UEFA's female club competition had come via the Welsh Women's Cup, perennially won by Cardiff City LFC, who compete in England. But thanks to the new national league, played with northern and southern divisions before a grand final, Swansea have a UEFA Women's Champions League bow. On Thursday they face the toughest of starts against former European semi-finalists ASD CF Bardolino Verona in qualifying round Group 5 in Slovenia .
Owen, whose team will also take on hosts ŽNK Krka and Georgia's FC Baia Zugdidi for a place in the round of 32, told UEFA.com: "
We want to win, there's no doubt about that. We'd love to progress in the tournament. But we've got a young squad so we're not getting ahead of ourselves, we know it will be a difficult task.
"Bardolino Verona have a good pedigree in the competition, they've been semi-finalists in the past. That's our first game. We've seen a couple of videos – they play at a high level and will be tough opposition. We have limited information on [Krka], but they've been in the competition before so they've experienced it. And [Baia] we don't really know anything about, so it is a bit of an unknown quantity."
Parent club Swansea City AFC are no strangers to European competition after seven UEFA Cup Winners' Cup campaigns between 1961/62 and 1991/92 – most notably knocking out SC Braga in 1982/83, although on their last appearance they lost 8-0 at AS Monaco FC. Owen, who works in Swansea's community department and took over the women's team eight years ago, said: "The club in general have been fantastic to us this season and in the build-up to this competition. There has been a lot of support and well-wishers, so the club do get behind us."
The route that took Swansea into Europe, the national league, is the latest step in the sport's development in Wales, with the national team having upset the Czech Republic and Belgium in their 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup campaign and the junior sides also having achieved good results. Swansea have had several Welsh youth internationals and in February Alicia Powe won the club's first senior cap. Owen believes the new league and the carrot of European qualification can persuade the best players to remain with his team.
"It was exactly the incentive our players needed to progress," he said. "The sport is growing in Wales, slowly, and over the years we've lost a number of talented players to the English system, chasing the better standard, so the national league was a godsend. The competition proved worthwhile with some good games and it was what was needed to inspire our girls to stay with us and to improve the club."