FFC Frankfurt and UEFA Women’s Champions League: Together again for the first time

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The 2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League final will see a clash between old and new. Richard Farley already extolled the virtues of defending champions Olympique Lyonnais and their forward-thinking style of play. Lyon could be the definitive women’s club team of the present era. They will contend with fellow finalists FFC Frankfurt; powerhouses from yesteryear.

If anyone has a historic claim to the competition, it might well be FFC Frankfurt. The German side is the tournament’s only three-time winners.

Technically speaking, at least. Frankfurt, fronted by women’s soccer legends Birgit Prinz and Steffi Jones, found unparalleled success in the UEFA Women’s Cup throughout the 00’s. The competition underwent a makeover in the 2010-11 season and adopted its current moniker, UEFA Women’s Champions League.

It’s taken Frankfurt some time to adjust. Following the team’s third UEFA Women’s Cup triumph in 2008, it looked as if its European exploits were a thing of the past. They’ve ceded domestic and continental dominance to arch rivals Turbine Potsdam in recent years.

Frankfurt finally clinched a Champions League berth last season and used the opportunity to further strengthen its squad.

The club adhered to its well-established, oft-criticized ‘have money, will spend’ ethos. They wooed chic striker Fatmire ‘Lira’ Bajramaj from Turbine Potsdam in what was perhaps the most expensive move in league history. Frankfurt also lured Japanese center back Saki Kumagai on the back of a fabulous World Cup.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the heightened expectations, it’s been a rocky year for the side. The team’s hurly-burly season makes its berth in the Champions League final so sweet – and a little improbable.

Frankfurt stuttered in the opening stanza of the season. Manager Sven Kahlert encountered difficulties establishing a consistent style of play that suited his assembly of stars. The team’s attack misfired more often than not. Four consecutive goalless losses in November saw them fall further adrift from the league’s Champions League places. Injuries to key players like holding midfielder Kim Kulig, American right back Ali Krieger, and starting goalkeeper Nadine Angerer only added to the frustration.

Despite the early glitches, the squad showed grit in its Champions League matches. The team dropped the first legs in its Round of 32 and quarter-final ties, but managed to overturn the deficit both times.

That sense of resilience and fightback has come to define Frankfurt’s end of season. Talk about hitting form at the perfect time. The team is now riding a season-best eight-game win streak that includes two comprehensive victories over Arsenal in the Champions League semi-finals. Frankfurt also earned a date in the German Cup final against Bayern Munich this coming weekend.

The team remains fourth in the league and has the toughest run-in of any of the top four sides. They could still find themselves outside the European places in what has been one of the most competitive Frauen-Bundesliga campaigns in years.

Champions League soccer or not, Frankfurt are well-equipped for next season. The side made the most of its sizeable transfer kitty by securing the services of lauded German internationals Simone Laudehr, Bianca Schmidt, and Babett Peter.

It’s been a long time coming, but Frankfurt have re-established themselves among Europe’s elite. A place in two cup finals confirms the team’s triumph over moments of adversity. With the help of spirited performances and, yes, a bit of cash, they will now have the chance to re-capture former glories against its headiest opponents yet in Lyon.

Frankfurt’s bright future is befitting of its storied past.