The inexorable comeback began with the Barcelona Femení at an apparent low point, losing several goals in the Champions League final for the third time in five years.
For half a decade, they have been the rising force in women’s football. They had built a great team around local stars. They had drawn record crowds and demonstrated the boundless potential of the sport. They had won Spanish league titles with goal differentials over 100 and looked untouchable – but they had one flaw, a stumbling block between their greatness and their undisputed pre-eminence, in the final stage of Spain’s top club competition. ‘Europe.
And here it is again. Barca entered Saturday’s final as prohibitive favorites against Wolfsburg. At half-time they trailed 2-0 and their fans, the majority of the 33,147 spectators at Eindhoven’s Philips Stadion, were stunned.
But full time they were 3-2 winners and European champions and unquestionably the queens of their sport.
For 45 minutes, since Ewa Pajor’s goal in the third minute, Barca women were interviewed. By the 50th minute they were level and an eventual triumph seemed inevitable. Patri Guijarro, the epitome of versatility, netted a clever team goal less than three minutes into the second half. Two minutes later, she swept the penalty area for another.
Wolfsburg held on for 20 minutes thereafter and then self-destructed under unbearable pressure from Barca. Fridolina Rolfö pounced on a mess in the penalty area. The side netting was waving, and everyone was carrying blaugrana exploded. The return was complete.
Barça had been here before and collapsed. In 2019, they conceded four goals against Lyon in 30 minutes. In 2022, it was three out of 33. But this team, this super-team, was too good and proved itself. They had taken the 2021 Champions League title by storm, and they had come to Eindhoven to do it again.
Even as they sank into the 2-0 hole, they advanced as if alone. They were structured but fluid, calm but incisive and above all clean on the ball. They missed chances and Wolfsburg put out the fires, but the openings and the opportunities were there. The half-time stat sheets were remarkably one-sided – in Barca’s favor – in every category except the one that ultimately counted.
But the patterns continued, the goals came and the blue-red flags started flying. Barca fans resumed their chant, creating a beautiful soundtrack for a special afternoon.
Their hearts fluttered in stoppage time, at least twice, when Wolfsburg threatened to write an alternate script. But Barca survived and erupted at the sound of the final whistle. Bench players spilled onto the pitch and leapt in a joyful circle. Some 45 minutes after the match, against a backdrop of confetti, they were still celebrating with thousands of traveling supporters.
Because it was the high point, the legitimate high point of their rise from an underfunded think tank to the throne in less than a decade.
At half-time there had been flashbacks – “a big flashback from the last final,” admitted Carolina winger Graham Hansen. But she and her teammates, staring at that 2-0 hole, turned to their talent and decided: “It will not happen again.”