A brace from Pernille Harder as well as goals from Ewa Pajor and Caroline Graham Hansen were more than enough for VfL Wolfsburg to claim a healthy first leg advantage over Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Due to be one of the ties of the round, neither the German or Spanish champions disappointed in the first half in Lower Saxony. Still growing as a side under Jose Luis Sanchez Vera, Atleti brought their relentless edge with them to Germany, working the hosts and giving them little time on the ball.
Needing extra time to settle, the hosts refused to bend to the will of their opposition, holding steadfast with their game, despite losing Lara Dickenmann to injury early in the match. A snapshot from Graham Hansen the first sighter for the Wolves, her ambitious effort skipping over the bar before Claudia Neto chanced her arm from further out. Catching Lola out, the Portuguese international was left to grimace as the audacious effort floated just over the top right corner.
Spinning in behind the defence, Harder looked to have the key to breaking the deadlock but twice miss-cued her shot. First pulling the ball wide of the far post before catching the upright firm in the face.
All square at the break after a solid first half from the visitors, the Spanish side were hit twice in three second half minutes, staring Champions League elimination in the face at the hands of Wolfsburg for the second year running. Needing a touch of luck, Harder’s direct effort caught Lola out, the ball bouncing off of her arm before clipping into the goal off of the post. With little time to recover, the Spanish number one was forced to pluck the ball from her net again moments later after Pajor had met Graham Hansen’s dinked free kick with a firm header.
The tie all but put to bed when the Norwegian raced into the box to send Pajor’s cut-back through the defence and rippling into the net. A fine goal from the Danish maestro minutes later enough to leave the visitors with nowhere to go.
Dismissed by the same opponent in the first-round last season, Atleti again looked okay for the first 45 minutes of the match, but again, a Harder goal scored at the start of the second half was enough to derail them. Falling three goals to nil at home last season and opting to all but forfeit the second leg in Germany, the Spaniards are more likely to come out firing in Madrid rather than just rolling over.
Opting to switch to a more defensive set-up after conceding their second, there was little the visitors could do as the third found the back of the net, the fourth forcing yet another rethink.
Having shown flashes of what they’re capable, Las Colchoneras look to be a team that will be a regular feature of the latter rounds of the competition in years to come. However, the Iberdrola champions were always going to have their backs against the wall against last season’s losing finalists and still have a ways to go in their development.
Harder, Pajor, Graham Hansen… are there better attackers to ask for? Still on a fantastic upward trajectory since carving out a starting spot in early 2017, Pajor has been in inspired form so far this season, the AOK Stadion her playground. Supported by two of the best Scandinavian attackers currently playing, Pajor’s link-up play with Graham Hansen for the third of the day just shows the glorious understanding between the attackers in the team. The style a flowing one that allows for multiple goalscorers, the ferocious attack always snatching the limelight from others in the team.