When the Wolfsburg players approached their fans at the end of the game, one could have been forgiven for thinking they’d won and qualified for a sixth Champions League final as the crowd rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation.
“When we did the lap of honor at the end of the game, I told the girls that we are just at the beginning of our journey,” head coach Tommy Stroot told DW. “Negative as well as positive experiences belong on this journey. This game has convinced us to believe in ourselves.”
Wolfsburg had won on the night, beating Barcelona 2-0 to end the Catalans’ 45-game unbeaten run. But the damage had already been done in the first leg, a 5-1 loss in front of an intimidating 91,651 fans inside the Camp Nou.
Barcelona head coach Jonatan Giraldez told DW that home advantage had helped Wolfsburg on Saturday, too, with 22,057 fans inside the Volkswagen Arena – a new home record for the club. For Wolfsburg, the decision to play in the club’s main arena, rather than the smaller 5,200-capacity AOK Stadium, had paid off.
“We couldn’t have asked for better marketing for the women’s team than their impressive performance,” said Dirk Zilles, the team’s communication manager. “We hope this makes many fans come back to watch them next season.”
For local reporter Felix Schröder, the performance was an important endorsement for the women’s game, showing that it has great entertainment value that can make it a stand-alone product. “The Wolfsburg women’s team has convinced many fans that they can come and watch their games,” he said.
One enthused elderly couple had certainly been won over. “It was a dream game,” they told DW after the match, summarizing the feeling of pride despite the elimination. “We couldn’t believe that we could win. Our women performed outstandingly well.”
Eyes on the future
The dream of a third Champions League triumph might be over for this season, but Wolfsburg are still one point clear at the top of the Bundesliga with three games remaining – including a game in hand over pursuers Bayern Munich.
But despite the financial support of Volkswagen and the men’s division, Wolfsburg know that they’re still not quite among the very elite.
They may have already signed up 21-year-old Slovenian defender Sara Agrez from Turbine Potsdam and veteran midfielder Marina Hegering from rivals Bayern to strengthen their squad ahead of the new season, but they are also attracting interest in the likes of Tabea Wassmuth and Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir, who have emerged as bonafide stars on the Champions League stage this season.
Already three former Wolfsburg players moved to Barcelona in recent times. The club understands the allure of a bigger city and more money for the players who also see it as an opportunity to learn a new culture and language.
“When players decide to leave for a big club like Barcelona, we can’t say no, so we say good luck,” explains comms boss Zilles. “We develop players and make them better and when they leave it is okay.”
So far, that philosophy is working and, even in defeat, Wolfsburg are boosting the profile of the women’s game. Next time, they’ll hope that the lap of honor and standing ovation in front of a large crowd will come after a more meaningful victory.
Edited by Matt Ford
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