After a 1-0 win away in Denmark, Manchester City Women knew that another clean sheet would be enough to see them book a place in the semi-final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Thursday night’s game was far from a classic, but a back-post header from Lucy Bronze three minutes before the break killed Fortuna Hjørring’s spirit and put the home side on the road to victory.
“We wanted to be the first to score, we are dangerous on set pieces and we proved that again tonight,” City’s captain Steph Houghton told Yahoo Sports after the game. “Lucy always tends to pop up with an important goal. Once that goes in, we were able to relax a little bit.”
It could have been much different on the 23rd minutes. Hjørring’s Caroline Rask broke into the box, saw her first shot blocked by the arm of Houghton – which she categorically denied after the match – but then the No.8 had a glarring chance when the rebound fell to her, but her attempt flashed just past the far post.
It was the first Champions League home game for US Women’s National team star Carli Lloyd and the World Cup winner got the crowd off their feet after 15 minutes. Jinking through the Danish defence, she made her way through on goal but couldn’t turn her shot on target.
Hjørring would have been delighted to reach the break level, but when winter signing Mel Lawley drilled in a corner from the right and Lucy Bronze leaped above the defence to head past Maria Christiensen.
Chances in the second half were few and far between and the visitors looked beaten, obviously unable to recover from the penalty claim. City were more than capable of playing out the rest of the game mostly untroubled. Nora Heroum tried her luck from the edge of the box with 10 minutes to go, but goalkeeper Karen Bardsley watched it fly past her right-hand post.
The 2-0 aggregate win sets up a mouth-watering semi-final with Olympique Lyonnais. The French side won last season’s competition and offer Man City the challenge they have yet to face, but something they will relish.
“I think this team is ready for it,” manager Nick Cushing told Yahoo Sports. “I think we need it. We went unbeaten in our league, we won the Continental Cup. I think now, we need to see where we are at, where our mentality is at and where out game is against the best.”
After 17 league games in the French Feminine Division, Lyon have played 17 and won 16, scoring 81 goals and conceding just six. OL beat VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 on aggregate and they will be favourites to reach the Cardiff final.
“There’s no pressure on us, everyone expects Lyon to beat us,” Cushing admitted. “They could play two teams. We’ll enjoy putting ourselves up against the best, because we think we are a good team.”
This is a wonderful opportunity for the WSL champions to measure themselves against the best team in women’s football. No matter what happens from here, City will be proud, but they are not going into these ties believing they are second best.
“Everyone’s delighted,” beamed Houghton. “At this football club, we wanted to be in this competition, and the first time we have been, it’s our first semi-final and you can see how much it means to the squad and the staff.
“We don’t stop here, we are excited to be involved in the semi-final, we know that Lyon are a very experienced team. They’ve got a squad full of internationals, but so have we.”
Manchester City Women: Bardsley, Bronze, Stokes, Houghton (c), Asllani (Parris) Scott (Middag), Lawley, Ross, McManus, Walsh, Lloyd.
Subs not used: Hourihan, Duggan, Christiansen, Stanway, Roebuck.
Fortuna Hjorring: Christiansen, Hyyrynen, Cordia, Rask (Barbosa), Larsen, Heroum, Olar Spanu (c), S D Hansen (C S M Hansen), Frank (Bruun) Thogersen, Gewitz.
Subs not used: Pettersen, Ringsing, Conc, Harrison.