The 2020/21 UEFA Women's Champions League season starts this week as Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League champions Swansea City head to Cyprus to take on Apollon FC on Wednesday, 4th November.
The Cypriot champions are regular contenders on the European stage, and have a history of progressing through the qualifying rounds to reach the knock-out stages. However, restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic mean that the traditional qualifying groups have been replaced with a one-off knock-out fixture that means the Swans have just one chance to get a positive result.
“We're looking forward it,” said head coach Colin Staples to the club's media channels last week. “The players have put a lot of effort in over the last few weeks, and with everything that's going on, they really have gone that extra mile. The togetherness in the squad is phenomenal. We recognise that we're representing the league and all its member clubs, so we go there with great confidence that we can put on a good performance. We can only do our best, and I know the girls will do that. The squad have really pulled together and worked together in every training session despite all their other commitments and the weather, so it's a great thank you to them. It's a pleasure to coach them.”
Swansea City return to the UWCL for the first time since 2017/18 having reclaimed the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League title last season, and the club were busy recruiting in the summer ahead of their European campaign. Lauryn Lyons, Laura Davies, Kelsey Thomas, Chloe Tiley, Emily Roberts and the returning Jemma Parfitt were amongst the newcomers to the club, and while they are confident of the challenge ahead, they are under no illusion over the size of the task facing them in Cyprus. Swansea City previously came up against Apollon in the UWCL back in 2011/12, with the Cypriot champions claiming a comfortable 8-0 victory.
“We have to respect the record of Apollon,” Staples added. “We know we are going into a baptism of fire. They are a club that are able to draw on the experience of players from around the world, they have a respected manager and a great stadium, so we're looking forward to all of that. Our aim is to put on a performance and come back with a result, but we have to respect the opposition, respect the tournament, and respect the circumstances that we're playing in and give it our best shot.”
A recent imposed break from domestic football has allowed the club extra time to focus on their UWCL tie, and the extreme circumstances surrounding the match has seen the players and staff go over and above in order to prepare as professionally as possible. “I must acknowledge the amount of work that has gone into this process,” said Staples. “Not just by the club, and in particular Ian Owen, but also the Football Association of Wales, Sport Wales and Welsh Government just to get the game on. So a tremendous thank you to them from the players and the staff.”
The winners of the match will progress to the second qualifying round, and the draw will take place on Friday, 6th November.
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