When the reigning Danish and Spanish champions were drawn against one another, many expected it to be a close encounter. The first match proved that they were right.
The first leg match was played front of a record breaking crowd of 9,127 at San Mamés. Never before has so many spectators showed up for a Round of 32 match in the history of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. What they got was a well-played match, where Athletic Bilbao just edged out Fortuna Hjørring 2-1.
Late drama in the first leg
Athletic got on the scoresheet in the 34th minute when Yulema Corres finished off a well executed counter attack, which she herself kept alive when she headed the ball down to the left wing from the middle of the pitch before finding her way to inside the area where she calmly put the ball in behind Fortuna's 'keeper Maria Lindblad Christensen.
Fortuna got back into it in the 71st minute when Karoline Smidt beautifully headed the ball past Ainhoa Tirapu in the Spanish goal. However, young Spanish midfielder Maite Oroz secured the win for Athletic when Erika Vázquez's through ball found it’s way to her. Athletic haven’t been in the CL since the 2007-08 season, and will de desperate to advance to the next round.
Fortuna in fine form
Fortuna can take many positives home with them from the first leg. They had good spells of possession and never looked outplayed. Not to forget that crucial away goal. Fortuna have been in scintillating form this season.
They have yet to lose in the league, and have only dropped points once, and that was when the other Danish UWCL side, Brøndby IF, were the opponent and the two teams drew 2-2. In the league game this weekend, they managed to overcome a poor start and ended up winning 4-1 against OdenseQ with their four goals coming in the second half.
If Fortuna want to advance then players like Florentina Olar - who by many was considered the best player in the Danish league last year - defenders Tamires and Nevena Damjanovic as well as big Danish talents Frederikke Thøgersen and Smidt will have to play to their best.
Athletic keep getting results
Athletic have scraped together four wins in their first five league games and have drawn once, against Huelva. This means they are still undefeated and currently in 4th place. Athletic also had to overcome going behind in the first half, when they faced Santa Teresa in the league this weekend. Second half goals from Lucia Garcia and Nekane Diez however proved to be enough to get the three points.
Corres, who scored in the first leg, has been lethal in front of goal this season and has scored seven goals in five league games so far. Erika, who assisted the second goal in the first leg, is always dangerous, and over her extensive career with athletic (and a season with Espanyol) she has scored more than 200 goals in the league and 18 goals in three spells in the Champions League. 36-year-old Elisabeth Ibarra is also a rock on Athletic's side having played for the club since 2002, making over 350 appearances.
She was a 76th minute sub in the first game, but even if she doesn't play having experience like that in the squad is crucial.
Athletic got the win, but the away goal will be crucial for Fortuna, who only need to score once (and keep a clean sheet) to get the win on aggregate. Fortuna are one of just two teams who have never gone out in the Round of 32 ever since this system was implemented back in the 2009-10 season. The other team are French giants Olympique Lyon.