The game had it all – the crisp tackles, the spectacular goals, the physicality, the great wing play. There was a ridiculous shot on goal from the halfway line that hit the crossbar, game management, loud and passionate fans and millions of viewers around the world. The Women’s Champions League final in Turin, Italy on Saturday was emotional, nervous, spectacular and, above all, football at the highest level.
The breathtaking final between Barcelona and seven-time winners Lyon was just the thing to cap off an important season in the history of women’s football. Barcelona were trying to establish themselves as a superpower in Europe, while Lyon needed to prove they remained the best in business, and the French side did so by winning an eighth Champions League title 3-1. The stadium was packed with fans from Spain and France.
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Prior to this season, the Women’s Champions League started with the round of 16, which meant that every game was a do-or-die game. With UEFA’s introduction of the group stage format in the women’s tournament this year, the number of participating clubs and matches has increased. This, in turn, has improved the standards, status and popularity of women’s football. Along the way, the Barcelona women played in front of a record 91,000+ spectators at the Camp Nou against Wolfsburg (semi-final) and Real Madrid (quarter-final) – a huge moment for women’s football. Elsewhere in England, the women’s FA Cup final between Manchester City and Chelsea at Wembley saw another attendance record of over 49,000 fans.
It was a significant year in Italy where elite female players achieved professional status, marking a significant change for women’s football in the country. Meanwhile, in the United States, the women’s national team‘s longstanding fight for equal pay has finally paid off. The men’s and women’s teams agreed earlier this month to share the prize money for their respective World Cups equally.
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It was also a year where the women’s teams of the big traditional clubs lifted the gloom into which their men’s teams had plunged the supporters. Manchester United Women have shown courage, fighting spirit and a will to win that the men’s team lacked throughout the season. The women’s team was in contention for Champions League positions until the very last day and finished fourth; and they have achieved this in just their third year since promotion to the Women’s Super League. In Spain, while Barcelona’s men started the season with lackluster performances from Ronald Koeman, it was Barca Women’s dominating displays that gave fans something to cheer about.
Unlike the Lionel Messi saga, what stands out about women’s football is the fact that money hasn’t corrupted it yet. There was never talk of $100 million signings or $500,000 weekly salaries and it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. The women’s game remains about raw emotion and that strong need to enjoy the game. However, this masks a very real concern that women’s association football is not giving athletes what the men are earning.
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This progress in the women’s game would not have led to the phenomenal growth in popularity if the games had not been televised around the world. Women’s Super League matches are free to watch on the FA Player while all Women’s Champions League matches have been streamed live on the DAZN channel on YouTube. The more people watch, the bigger the game gets. There’s more to come with the Women’s Euros this summer, where the best women’s teams on the continent will compete and most likely take the game to the next level once again.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Methoda book on functional fitness.
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