Swansea City Ladies of the Genero Adran Premier head to the Cypriot city of Limassol this week to compete in their fifth UEFA Women's Champions League campaign with an opening match against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday, 18 August, at the Tsirion Stadium (8.15pm).
In a change to the competition format, the match is one of two semi-finals in Group 6 as hosts Apollon will take on Dinamo BSUPC at the same location earlier in the day. The two winners will then meet in the final on Saturday, 21 August, to decide which one of the four clubs will progress to the next round. The two defeated semi-finalists will also meet on 21 August to decide 3rd and 4th place.
Former Cymru U19 international Rhianne Oakley has joined the club from Pontypridd Town, while Chris Llewellyn has been appointed as head coach after Colin Staples stepped down from his position during the summer. Llewellyn, who played six times for Cymru during his professional playing career, is looking forward to the immediate challenge.
“It is an exciting time,” said Llewellyn to the club's official website following his appointment. “It is the first time for me to be involved in a Champions League qualifying group. I have watched a few of the sessions lately and the girls are really looking forward to it, the opposition will be tough, but any Champions League game is going to be. They have done well in the pre-season games leading up to it, so they are ready to go.”
Swansea City qualified for the UWCL as they retained the Welsh Premier Women's League title last season, remaining undefeated throughout the entire campaign to edge themselves above rivals Cardiff Met by a single point, the side then defeated Cardiff City in the League Cup final to claim a domestic double. In fact, the team conceded just one goal in their 16 league fixtures, and that is the sort of form they will need to take into European competition this week such is the scale of the challenge ahead.
“The girls had an excellent season last year,” Llewellyn added. “Obviously, the aim of every team is to progress year in, year out and we can gauge that in the Champions League. We have had a few chats and all we have told the girls is to leave everything out on the pitch. We will approach the game slightly different to what they have in the past. Hopefully we can be more on the front foot and get after teams rather than being in a deep block and invite pressure. We want to go after the opposition, hopefully win the ball high and score goals. The coaching staff have come up with a plan that we think will work and hopefully the players can implement it.”
Under the guidance of Sergei Lavrentyev, a former manager of the Russian women's national team, CSKA Moscow have strengthened their squad recently with the additions of Russian international striker Marina Kiskonen, Sh'Naya Gordon from French side Dijon and Nigerian forward Franziska Ordega. Currently in the middle of their domestic season, the side sit in third position having won ten of their opening 18 league games.
One player who will hoping to make her UWCL debut this week is Cymru goalkeeper Claire Skinner who joined the club in December 2020. “I can’t wait to get out there to experience top class football and be able to make memories with the team,” she explained the club's official website. “I have heard lots from the girls, mostly good things, but the main point being that the opposition are going to be strong, elite and physical players. I hope we put out a top-class performance and give the opposition a good battle.”
Last year, Swansea City were eliminated from the UWCL in the opening round following a 3-0 defeat against Apollon in what was a one-off match due to the pandemic. The two teams had previously met in the competition back in 2011/12, and the Swans will be hoping to make it third time lucky should they find themselves coming up against them again in the second game in the group, whether that is for a place in the next round or to determine which team will finish third.
No domestic team from Wales has ever made it through the opening round of the UWCL, and Swansea City will know that they have the chance to make history this week. Deserved champions after a very impressive season, the side know from experience just what is required to compete on the continent, and while the challenge will be difficult a positive approach could take the side into uncharted territory.
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