Turin (Italy) (AFP) – The Women’s Champions League used to take pride of place in Lyon’s trophy cabinet, and on Saturday the leading French side will hope to reclaim the title when they face holders Barcelona in the final in Turin (kick-off 1700 GMT).
Lyon have won a record seven Champions Leagues, including five in a row between 2016 and 2020 before a Barcelona team inspired by captain Alexia Putellas claimed their first crown last season, thumping Chelsea 4-0 behind closed doors in Gothenburg.
That seemed to mark the start of a new era in the European women’s game, with the best players no longer so easily drawn to Lyon, their heads instead turned by Barcelona but also by leading sides in England, where the Women’s Super League is trying to establish itself as the continent’s leading competition.
Yet Lyon still have former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, the 26-year-old who scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Barcelona in the 2019 final in Budapest and is gradually getting back to her best after a long spell out injured.
With towering French international Wendie Renard skippering the side at the back, United States World Cup winner Lindsey Horan patrolling the midfield and Catarina Macario an emerging star, the spine of their side is strong.
Coached by former Lyon and France midfielder Sonia Bompastor, they are set to reclaim the domestic title from Paris Saint-Germain, who they also knocked out of Europe in an all-French semi-final to reach a ninth Champions League final in 12 seasons.
“The season has maybe not been good enough in terms of how we have played, but we have got stronger as we have gone on, especially after the (quarter-final second leg) against Juventus,” Hegerberg, the first ever women’s Ballon d’Or winner in 2018, said in an interview with Lyon’s official website.
“We kind of clicked, and then we played really well in the semi-finals.
“The year 2022 has been challenging but we can still win the league and the Champions League. So we have to keep our standards and keep playing at a very high level.”
Putellas, 28, is a childhood Barcelona fan who won the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA female player of the year earlier this season.
She has scored 10 goals on Barcelona’s run to the final in the first Women’s Champions League to match the men’s competition and feature a group stage.
They topped their group ahead of Arsenal, beat Real Madrid in the last eight and then saw off Wolfsburg in the semi-finals.
Their fans have twice set world record attendances, with 91,553 seeing them beat Madrid at the Camp Nou in the quarter-finals and 91,648 turning out for the Wolfsburg semi-final.
Reports in Spain indicate that around 15,000 fans are expected to travel from Catalonia to Turin for the final at the Juventus Stadium, while the city’s mayor, Ada Colau, has said a big screen will be erected to allow those staying behind to watch the match.
Lyon may have been the dominant club over the last decade, but a Barcelona side that won all their games in the Spanish league this season are slight favourites.
“We have never beaten Lyon, so that is the challenge,” Spain forward Mariona Caldentey said.
“Last year was special, but there were no people there for the final. This time we want to win something big and celebrate it with the fans.”
As well as the glory there is the financial incentive: UEFA increased prize money for the Champions League from this season to 24 million euros ($25.4m), quadruple the previous figure.
At the start of the campaign European football’s governing body said the winner of the trophy stood to claim 1.4 million euros.
2011-12: Lyon (FRA)
2012-13: Wolfsburg (GER)
2013-14: Wolfsburg (GER)
2014-15: Frankfurt (GER)
2015-16: Lyon (FRA)
2016-17: Lyon (FRA)
2017-18: Lyon (FRA)
2018-19: Lyon (FRA)
2019-20: Lyon (FRA)
2020-21: Barcelona (ESP)
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