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Route to the final

Route to the final

The ball started rolling along the road to Berlin in August 2014, when eight groups of four teams disputed a qualifying round in the form of mini-tournaments in the opening phase of the 14th edition of the competition born as the UEFA Women's Cup in 2001/02 and re-launched as the UEFA Women's Champions League in 2009/10. The 48 matches played produced 218 goals at an average of 4.54 per fixture. The eight group winners were joined by the two best runners-up in the draw for the first knockout round, involving 32 clubs. Of the teams who came through from the qualifying round, Glasgow City FC went on to reach the quarter-finals.

There were surprises and close calls in the opening knockout round. Gintra Universitetas of Lithuania eliminated AC Sparta Praha in a penalty shoot-out. SV Neulengbach of Austria needed extra-time to edge past MTK Hungària FC; ditto Glasgow City in the Scots' tie against KKPK Medyk Konin of Poland; and ditto Brøndby IF when they took on Apollon LFC of Cyprus. With hindsight, the 2-2 draw between BIIK-Kazygurt and 1. FFC Frankfurt in Kazakhstan represented a surprise in that the German club did not concede another goal until the final in Berlin. On the other hand, 37 goal attempts, compared with seven by the home team, issued a clear warning about the attacking potential of Colin Bell's side.


Bristol got the better of Barcelona

In the following round, a 3-0 home win for WFC Zvezda 2005 – finalists in 2009 – against Linköpings FC might not have raised eyebrows. But the Russian team's 5-0 defeat in the first leg in Sweden certainly had. Bristol Academy, with nine goal attempts against FC Barcelona (who had four times as many) indicated how teams are increasingly prepared to offer tactical resistance to theoretically superior opposition by edging the tie 2-1. But the pick of the round was the all-French confrontation between Paris Saint-Germain and four-time finalists Olympique Lyonnais. The latter donned the favourites' mantle after a 1-1 draw in the capital but, in the return, one of their 18 goal attempts struck the woodwork while one of Paris's two attempts hit the net. Fatmire Alushi's finish sufficed to send Paris through.

In the quarter-finals, Glasgow City managed to limit the score to 0-2 in the first leg in Scotland thanks to excellent team organisation and a strong work ethic – but struggled to express their personality while seeing so little of the ball. At Parc des Princes, deep defending saw Eddie Wolecki Black's side through the first half. But when freshness faded after the break, four goals were conceded – two of them from the penalty spot. Bristol Academy were similarly obliged to focus on compact defending, midfield pressing and direct supply to the striker during their tie against Frankfurt but conceded a dozen goals over the two matches – eight of them after the break.

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Brøndby won a tight quarter-final

The other two ties were, however, much more closely contested. Linköping were the dominant force and hit the woodwork twice during the first leg against Brøndny in Sweden, building patiently from the back, using the wide areas well, testing the visitors' defence with well-timed runs by striker Stina Blackstenius, outdoing the visitors two-to-one in goal attempts ... and hitting the self-destruct button with a goal put into her own net by skipper Charlotte Rohlin. Pressing high, countering fast and permanently seeking the through pass, Martin Sjögren's side similarly dominated the return in Denmark but, after conceding an early goal, could manage no more than a solitary, insufficient, reply by Mariann Knudsen.

Sweden's other representative, FC Rosengård, had the misfortune to be drawn against the defending champions, VfL Wolfsburg. But, playing attractive, attack-minded football, Markus Tilly's team, with Marta weaving her magic on the left flank, and with quick transitions to 1-4-5-1 defending, managed to find antidotes to Wolfsburg's power play and travelled home with a 1-1 draw in their baggage. In the return, Anita Asante played a vital organising role as the controlling midfielder in a 1-4-1-3-2 formation and the Swedish hosts enjoyed spells of domination in a high-tempo game. They reacted well to conceding an early goal but when Wolfsburg came back to 2-2 early in the second half, found no similar powers of reaction; over-hurried the final pass; and were unable to switch play as effectively as they had in the first half. A 3-3 draw signified an exit on away goals.

Watch: Paris stun Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg's reward was a semi-final against Paris, with the first leg in Germany proving to be a frustrating experience for Ralf Kellermann and his players. A bright start faded as Paris used their technique to control the game and their athletic qualities to effectively shut down the spaces for the home team's attacking players. Conceding two goals in the opening half-hour, the defending champions struggled to find the energy and inspiration to reply. The return leg in Paris was a similar story, with the home team sitting deep to protect their advantage and trampolining into rapid counters, including a solo run which allowed Farid Benstiti's team to extend its lead while the stadium clock was still registering single figures. Wolfsburg probed insistently along the flanks with their initial 1-3-4-3 formation often evolving into a five-player front line of attack, with constant positional permutations, and only two patrolling the defensive third. A seemingly tranquil evening for the Parisian team was transformed in the final 20 minutes, when two strikes from long range - the first of them deflected – allowed Wolfsburg to come within touching distance of an away-goals victory. With added urgency, they laid siege to the home goal but failed to ruffle the net for a third time and the champions of 2013 and 2014 were deprived of their chance to record a hat-trick.

But Germany was still alive. The other tie was at odds with the levels of intensity and competitiveness normally associated with semi-finals. In the first leg, Per Nielsen's Brøndby mirrored Frankfurt's 1-3-5-2 formation but struggled to cope with the Germans in the wide areas. An early penalty was the prelude to six more goals for the home team, with Célia Šašic providing four of them. For the formality of the return leg, Nielsen reverted to a 1-4-2-3-1 structure with the Danish team making efforts to build constructively from the back and to look for penetrating passes through the middle or to the wings. They were loyal to their philosophy of trying to solve defensive problems on the basis of technique – but were 0-5 adrift by the interval and finally succumbed by a record 0-13 aggregate score, with both Šašic and Verónica Boquete posting hat-tricks. Paris were into the club's first final – and they would meet German opposition again in Berlin.