This was Barcelona’s final to lose. The cream of Europe had promised to make up for their humbling 3-1 defeat by Lyon in Turin last year and pay back the efforts of fans they “owed” a second Champions League final victory.
Wolfsburg knew they were the underdogs – or underwolves – it was a narrative set as soon as the semi-finals were over. Yet they almost punctured the party when goals from Ewa Pajor and Alexandra Popp gave them a 2-0 half-time lead.
However, this is a new Barcelona: more versatile and more resilient. Beforehand, Alexia Putellas said: “We can play in open games and if other teams shut up shop, we can cope with that. We can dig in.”
So as it turned out the narrative was veered from but not rewritten, as Jonatan Giráldez’s Barcelona side rallied to pull off a second-half comeback worthy of victory. Two goals in three minutes from Patri Guijarro pulled them level before Fridolina Rolfö capitalised on a defensive mix-up to make it 3-2.
Putellas, who started on the bench as the club continue to manage her minutes since the anterior cruciate ligament injury that kept her out of last summer’s Euros, had cautioned that mistakes could prove costly, as they found in Turin. They had mapped the path to success, but they did not follow it.
In the third minute Lucy Bronze was not alert to the threat of Pajor and the competition’s leading scorer this season dispossessed the right-back then skated centrally before lashing with force past Sandra Paños. Bronze had not played since April because of a knee injury suffered in the semi-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It was a bruising blow and Barcelona looked stunned. Out went the precise passing that is so synonymous with the side. Instead their performance was littered with errors, hesitation and poorly judged or poorly weighted passes.
They dominated the first half, though, with 60% possession and 15 shots to Wolfsburg’s three, but the German side went in at the break with a two-goal lead. The second was fast, it was against the run of play and it was vicious. Felicitas Rauch was allowed to venture into the Barcelona half, she fed Pajor out wide on the left and the forward pinged it across goal for Popp to head in from close range.
Barcelona were being punished for their profligacy. Irene Paredes headed agonisingly wide from a María León corner and Caroline Graham Hansen lifted the ball wide of the goal when it was perhaps easier to score.
Whatever was said at half-time in the Blaugrana dressing room had an impact because a different side emerged from the tunnel.
“This game had every emotion it could have. I’m just so happy,” Graham Hansen told Dazn. “I had a big flashback to the last final and thought: ‘It’s not going to happen again.’”
Bronze added: “You saw in the two finals that Barcelona lost [in 2019 and 2022], they’ve been heavily beaten. Once it was one goal, it was two goals. Once it was two goals today, we shut up shop and made it difficult defensively and created loads of chances.”
The blueprint was there: Arsenal had overturned a two-goal first-half deficit in Germany in the first leg of the semi-final. Within three minutes of the restart Barcelona had pulled a goal back, Graham Hansen pulling back for an onrushing Guijarro to send the ball rising into the roof of the net with one touch.
It electrified the travelling fans, who numbered more than 8,000, behind the goal and the singing had not stopped when they got what would have looked, given the first-half performance, like the most unlikely of levellers. This time it was the masterful Aitana Bonmatí finding space on the right before delivering a cross. Guijarro once more was there, sending a thumping header beyond Merle Frohms.
“We tried to stabilise the things we did well in the first half and change a few things we could have done better,” said Wolfsburg’s manager Tommy Stroot. “We expected Barcelona to attack fiercely but, having conceded so quickly, the second goal was a result of that.”
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Barcelona took the lead for the first time with 20 minutes remaining, after chaotic and somewhat unfortunate defending from Wolfsburg handed them the opportunity.
Lynn Wilms’s attempted clearance was straight at her teammate Kathrin Hendrich and the rebounding ball fell to a delighted Rolfö to fire in at the far post.
The substitute Pauline Bremer headed agonisingly into the hands of Paños deep into seven minutes of added time and that was Wolfsburg’s last attempt. The whistle went moments later to ensure Barcelona secured one of the most impressive Champions League final victories in the competition’s history.