When the last two Women’s Champions League Round of 32 draws have taken place, there might have been no team with a tougher task than Juventus Women. A year after facing Barcelona, one of the two 2019 finalists, who does Juve get? Well, only the team that Barcelona lost to in said final — Lyon, the clear-cut best team in the world.
Because of that, it was always going to take a Herculean effort to even get a result against Lyon’s star-studded roster. And yet, they almost did it. The underdogs almost did it.
All that stood between Juve and a stunning result against the best team in the world was essentially stoppage time. But, as Lyon has proved time and time again during their run of European dominance, sometimes their individual skill is enough to overcome any kind of situation. Saki Kumagai was able to avoid tackle attempts from what seemed half of the opposing midfield and defense during a mad scramble in the box before scoring in the 88th minute to give Lyon, the five-time defending European champions, the late 3-2 win over Juventus Women at the Allianz Stadium on Wednesday.
So close. So damn close. They were just so incredibly close to getting one of the best results in the young history of Juventus having a women’s team. For as impressive as the first leg against Barcelona was a year ago, this was a step or two further from that. This was a fantastic showing against the gold standard of women’s club football.
And yet, they head into next week’s second leg needing to flip the scoreline in their favor.
Juve held the lead twice — first, after Lina Hurtig’s header off a pearl of a Barbara Bonansea cross and then in the second half after Hurtig’s cross was deflected by a pair of Lyon defenders to put the Bianconere ahead 2-1. But another Hurtig chance, one where she was in on a breakaway against Lyon keeper Sarah Bouhaddi — who made a nice kick save — is one that will loom large knowing how things ended up going. Instead of potentially holding a 3-1 first-half lead against Lyon despite the visitors absolutely dominating possession, it stayed a one-goal advantage and kept the door open for them to come back once more in the second half.
And that’s what they did.
Regardless, wherever you look, you saw a Juventus team that was fighting to prove that they belong on the European stage once again this season. The draw stacked the deck against them, and they were essentially facing pressure from the opening minute. (Seriously, Lyon waited all of about half a second before throwing numbers forward and trying to take control of this game.)
But despite all the talent that Lyon has and how often Juve were having to scramble to weather the storm, they did just that. This could have easily been a 2-2 draw, and that is the kind of result that feels right based on how well Juve played and the massive fight they put up.
The score will say Juve lost, and there’s no avoiding that fact. But this Juventus team put up one hell of a fight put the best team best team in the world on the brink of not winning a game everybody thought they would roll to victory in, and for that they shouldn’t forget. Even in a loss Juventus showed that they are far from a pushover against a team that is predicted to win the whole damn thing for yet another Champions League campaign.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Laura Giuliani posted a story on Instagram after training Tuesday where three of her cats were sprawled out on top of her while she laid out on the couch. Knowing the amount of work Giuliani had to do in this game, I expect another story like that, but with the added fact that Juve’s No. 1 will be sleeping for about 36 hours straight.
- Not only was Giuliani busy as hell against the best team in the world, but she played, hands down, her best of the season. Juve needed her to stand tall amidst so much pressure, and she was up for it. Her two top-tier saves in the first half prevented Lyon from getting the upper hand early.
- Saying that Juventus’ defense is better with Sara Gama in the lineup is a given. But watching Gama defending, watching her ability to read the game and anticipate things before they happen, it’s just so fun to watch. She’s such a damn good captain, and it starts with her being a damn good player.
- As this game went on, I only continued to think of this comparison for how Hurtig’s game was being played: a certain grumpy Croatian who is beloved around these parts. Maybe it’s the fact that they both wear No. 17, maybe it’s because they’re both tall and lanky with their arms filled with tattoos, but Hurtig was definitely giving off strong Mario Mandzukic vibes against Lyon. The goal Hurtig scored was a classic Mandzukic-like header at the back post where she towered over the player marking her. She was continuously tracking back to defend. This was a fantastic showing for one of Juve’s summer signings.
- I will forever cape for Arianna Caruso and this game will not change my mind. She’s the future of Juve’s midfield, and playing pretty well in the present. What a player she is at all of 21 years old — and she’s only getting better.
- Speaking of Juventus midfielders, Aurora Galli was absolutely everywhere defensively — especially in the second half — and really played a key role with Lyon throwing so many players forward. The ability Lyon has to go from their defensive third of the field to the attacking third in what seems like a snap of the fingers was impressive as all hell, but time and time again Galli was there to at least slow the opposition down a little bit.
- Lisa Boattin was getting picked on early in this game as Lyon went attacking right at Juve’s young left back time and time again. But one of quality all good players have is the ability to bounce back — which is exactly what Boattin did. After a tough 10 or 15 minutes to start this game, she was absolutely nails and ended up having a really nice game.
- Final shot totals: Lyon 20, Juventus Women 6.
- Final shot on target totals: Lyon 10, Juventus Women 2.
- Despite all of that, Juve was in this thing until the very end. Fino alla fine, indeed.