Lyon are still the favorite, and Wolfsburg are coming off a record-setting result, but last year’s finalists have been dealt huge tests in next months UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 16.
These match-ups were somewhat predetermined on Sept. 5, when the draws for the Rounds of 32 and 16 took place, but seeing how the tournament’s played out, you still can’t help but think some of these matchups have come too soon. Just as last round’s Tyresö-PSG draw saw one of Europe’s most-talented sides meet a premature exit, the Round of 16 will see at least two legitimate contenders leave before the quarterfinals.
In the quickly changing landscape of European women’s soccer, there may be no way around it. Until the tournament can support a full group stage, it’s hard to come up with a sure-fire solution that doesn’t involve a type of NCAA basketball-esque cabal (though that does seem quite popular). The type of granularity that eight groups provide on the men’s side may not exist when in a tournament starts with the knockout round.
As this tournament and its participants stabilze, UEFA can get a better idea of what measures can be implemented to prevent big teams from meeting each other too soon (having teams like Paris Saint-Germain avoid Tyresö in the Round of 32 would certainly help maintain long-term interest in a competition). Until then, we’re going to get some crazy draws, ones that create early obstacles for giants like Lyon and Wolfsburg.
Here are the tournament’s Round of 16 matchups, finalized after results for today’s Round of 32 ties:
Turbine Potsdam (Germany) vs. Lyon (France) – That PSG-Tyresö match we went on about for two weeks? That’s nothing, I mean nothing compared to this one. Lyon’s the tournament favorites. Potsdam’s a former champion. Lyon will be spurred on by memories of last year’s shock loss to Wolfsburg in the final. Potsdam will have to decide if they want to spend two legs behind the ball (emulating Wolfsburg) or take their chances trying to play with the most talented team in the world. I just hope the kickoffs aren’t at the same time as …
- Malmö (Sweden) vs. Wolfsburg (Germany) – Like last year’s other finalists (Lyon), the holders got a tough draw. Malmö has claimed three Swedish titles in four years, never finishing outside the top two in that span, and will bring a multi-national list of top-shelf talent to bear on the German champions. The German treble winners will be favorites, coming off their record-setting 27-0 (two-legged) win over Pärnu, but like Potsdam-Lyon, this is another match that will see a true contender leave the competition.
- Arsenal (England) vs. Glasgow City (Scotland) – UEFA’s site has already labeled this a British derby, though there is one clear favorite. Shelley Kerr’s side will be expected to ease past their Scottish counterparts, in part because of the Scottish internationals she’ll have in her side. Kim Little’s the Gunners’ most dangerous attacker, Emma Mitchell should start at the back, while 18-year-old Caroline Weir is one of Kerr’s other talented options.
- Barcelona (Spain) vs. Zürich (Switzerland) – This match looks somewhat similar to Barcelona’s Round of 32 tie, with Brønby testing whether their recent strides were enough to make Champions League progress. A quarterfinal appearance would be more than most predicted from the still-improving Catalans, but if they can get by Brønby (one of two seeded teams to be eliminated last round), they’re capable of downing Zürich.
- Konak (Turkey) vs. Neulengbach (Austria) – The Turks have already made history but may yet have damage to do, being drawn with a team that’s never made it past the Round of 16. The Austrian champions, however, will be seen as slight favorites to make history of their own.
Fortuna (Denmark) vs. Tyresö (Sweden) – If Tyresö could manage PSG, they can take Fortuna, though their draw could have been easier. The Danes have made four straight Round of 16 appearances and were European runners up in 2002-03. Unfortunately, there is a huge gap in talent, making Tyresö the favorites to move on.
- Rossiyanka (Russia) vs. Torres (Italy) – Perhaps a sneaky-good match-up, as neither team’s considered a true threat to challenge for the title, yet both are regular presences at this stage of the tournament. Given some of the other Round of 16 pairings, this match may prove more difficult than the survivor’s quarterfinal draw.
- Zorky (Russia) vs. Birmingham (England) – These are two teams that typically get overshadowed by their country’s other Champions League entrants, even if Zorky claimed the 2012-13 Premier League title from Rossiyanka. These Round of 16 spots are firsts for clubs who combined for one Champions League appearance before this year’s tournament.