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Barcelona v Wolfsburg

Barca’s UWCL rout of Wolfsburg keeps perfect 'invincible' season on track while underlining big problems in Germany

2:57 AM SGT 23/4/22
Putellas Barcelona Wolfsburg 2022
The Spanish side were dominant once again while exposing the flaws of their opponent

“If you look at the economic possibilities of clubs from England or Spain, there won't be a Champions League winner from Germany in the short term,” Ralf Kellerman, the sporting director of Wolfsburg and the man who coached the club to two successive Women’s Champions League titles in 2013 and 2014, told GOAL before his team’s clash with Barcelona.

That might have seemed pessimistic to some, but what played out in the first leg of this UWCL semi-final on Friday night at another record-breaking, sold-out Camp Nou illustrated everything he was talking about.

As Barca ran out 5-1 winners, the gap between these two sides was glaringly on show. That’s not through any fault of Wolfsburg’s, but more a sign of how the women’s game has changed in the last few years.

Going into this fixture, the German side had a perfect record against the reigning European champions: three games, three wins, no goals conceded.

Their last meeting came in the semi-finals of the 2019-20 UWCL, when they ran out 1-0 victors. That day, Fridolina Rolfo was the match-winner. On Friday, she was playing again – but not in the green of Wolfsburg.

With less than three minutes on the board, it was her quick thinking from a free-kick that set Aitana Bonmati through on goal to put the hosts in the lead.

The second goal was salt in the wounds for Wolfsburg, too. It was Caroline Graham Hansen this time on the scoresheet, leaving Joelle Wedemeyer on the ground as she found the far corner. The Norwegian has arguably been the best winger in the world for several years now, a spell that began when she was at Wolfsburg.

When she left Germany for Spain back in 2019, it raised eyebrows. Barca had just reached the UWCL final, but they were humbled by an incredible Lyon side, while Wolfsburg remained the French giants' biggest rival in Europe. It was a sign of the project being built in Catalunya and the ambition that they had.

In the three years since, Barca have gone from strength to strength. When a club the size of Barcelona is taking its women’s football project seriously, and doing things properly, it can only lead to success.

Meanwhile, the departures of players like Graham Hansen and Rolfo show how difficult things have become for Wolfsburg and for German women’s football.

Though the summer signing of Jill Roord from Arsenal was an example of the pull that this illustrious club still has, Wolfsburg’s philosophy has had to become one of signing young players or players taking that next step in their careers, while others in Europe have more financial means.

It is a strategy that has served them well. After all, Wolfsburg are in pole position in the Frauen-Bundesliga title race and are in the DFB-Pokal final, both at the expense of Bayern Munich.

However, when players are moving to rival clubs in the UWCL and putting in performances against you like Rolfo and Graham Hansen did on Friday, there is a problem.

Lina Magull, the Germany international midfielder who triumphed in Europe with Wolfsburg in 2013 and is now at Bayern, spoke to GOAL and SPOX last month about the issues in Germany.

“It's a difficult business, and you need those responsible to take the big steps,” she said. “There's little point in talking about things in public but not initiating certain processes internally.

“Especially since the focus is still on the men's sector and we are not treated equally there. Corona also didn't play into our cards in such a way that the DFB could now go full throttle.

“I don't know exactly what the problem is. We only hear that it works well in other countries because they invest, because they're keen on women's soccer and because they see that it's worthwhile. I don't know why that's still such a problem in Germany.

“We players are trying hard, we're always developing, and that's why I don't understand why people aren't completely behind us, why they're not just talking about it.”

But this game wasn’t just about problems in Germany. This was also all about Barca, once again. This was about a team at the absolute top of their game, so much so that this wasn’t a perfect performance, but still impressed and gave them a resounding win.

It was, again, in an arena fitting, with 91,648 in the Camp Nou stands this time – Barca breaking their own record for an attendance at a women’s game. It’s an audience that the best team in the world deserves.

It was also a warning shot fired to not only Lyon and PSG in the other semi-final of the UWCL, but the whole of Europe. If anyone thought the sensational season last term was a one-off, if they thought opponents would figure out how to stop Barca, they were wrong.

With 39 games played in all competitions, Barca have 39 wins. They are eight games away from another treble. They are eight wins away from the most perfect season possible.

Can they do it? A few teams have shown it is possible to trouble them, albeit in glimpses.

Unbeaten they remain – and unstoppable they look.