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Women's Football Barca vs Lyon: the perfect show piece final

BARCELONA face Lyon in the Women’s Champions League this weekend in a match that pits two powerhouses of the game against each other in the continent’s biggest final.

The final features some of the best players in the world, including two of the three winners of the Ballon d’Or Feminin, Barca’s Alexia Putellas and Ada Hegerberg of Lyon.

At a time when women’s football is growing and the game is getting more coverage than ever, this is the perfect show-piece final to round off its latest chapter.

Barcelona, the Spanish champions from Catalonia, have only lost one league game in three years — a 4-3 defeat away to Atletico Madrid towards the end of the 2020/21 season, with the three major trophies already secured.

Since then, they have not only been unbeaten but have won every Primera Division match they have played, claiming this season’s league title with 30 wins from 30 games, scoring 159 goals in the process and conceding just 11.

It’s Barca’s third league title in a row, having also gone unbeaten in the 2019/20 campaign, drawing twice, with the loss to Atletico,  their only defeat across the three title-winning seasons.

Their only loss this season came in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal at Wolfsburg, where a 2-0 defeat (having won the first leg 5-1) ended a 45-match winning streak.

Few would argue that this isn’t the best football team in the world, and Saturday’s final gives them another chance to prove it.

But despite their recent dominance, this is only Barcelona’s third Champions League final.

They won last year’s convincingly against Chelsea, 4-0, and lost to this weekend’s opponents back in 2019.

Speaking to one of this season’s Champions League broadcasters, DAZN, Alexia Putellas commented on that 2019 defeat.

“Now that several years have passed, I have a love-hate relationship with that final,” she said.

“It really hurt, and it was a reality check for the team, but it was also a useful test for us.

“We could see we were not on the same level as Lyon. For many years since that final in 2019 we have been committed. We were dedicated for a long time.”

This match provides Barcelona with a chance to prove they can be a force on the continent as well as domestically, and there is no better opponent to test themselves against than Lyon.

The French side have has many Champions League trophies (seven) as Barcelona have domestic league titles. They have been a powerhouse in European football as well as in the French league, where they won the Division 1 Feminine 14 times in a row between 2007 and 2020.

In recent times their compatriots, Paris Saint-Germain, have knocked them off their perch. PSG won the league title in 2021, eliminated Lyon from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in the same year, and knocked them out of this year’s French Cup.

But Lyon are once again top of the league in France, holding a five-point lead over their rivals with two games to go (the pair face each other in one of them).

They defeated PSG in the semifinals of this season’s Champions League, winning both legs to secure a 5-3 aggregate victory and reach their tenth final.

Both sides have something to prove. Lyon will be looking to show they are still a force to be reckoned with, while Barcelona aim to confirm they are the best side in world football at this moment in time.

And the meeting between two such powerhouses in a final could be yet another huge boost for the women’s game.

On their way to the final, Barcelona set official attendance records for women’s football with their 5-1 victory against Wolfsburg, attracting 91,648 fans to the Camp Nou.

“We are very happy not just for the result but also for the atmosphere at the stadium,” said Barcelona midfielder Patricia Guijarro.

“It is spectacular that we have set a new record. What happened today and a month ago has left us speechless.

“As the days or the years go by, we will understand better what has happened. Right now, we have not completely grasped the magnitude of this experience.”

This beat the record they set in the previous round when 91,553 watched them defeat Real Madrid.

There is some controversy around these records, though, as the 1971 World Cup in Mexico saw higher attendances.

110,000 fans are reported to have attended the final between Denmark and Mexico at the Estadio Azteca, but this tournament was not organised by Fifa (the first Fifa Women’s World Cup wasn’t until 1991), which appears to be one of the reasons for its lack of recognition.

It is another moment in the history of women’s football that highlights the struggles it has had when it comes to official backing, organisation and recognition, but it also shows there has always been great interest in the game when such events take place.

Returning to the present day, increased television coverage, media reporting and awareness of the history of the game have seen it grow and begin to realise the potential it has always had.

The phrase “build it, and they will come” can be applied to women’s football.

With strong foundations once again being put in place, building on the work of many across the sport — from those in the media, including the Morning Star, who covered the game during its more difficult times, to the organisers, volunteers, and clubs — it is once again attracting spectators and participants on a grand scale.

And the scale doesn’t come much grander than Barcelona versus Lyon in the Champions League final, which is available to watch in Britain on Freeview television, on ITV4 at 6pm Saturday evening.

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