UEFA Women’s Champions League finals always have a story and depending on how many goals are scored, always have a thrilling narrative that unfolds throughout the match. On May 22, 2014, the final saw VfL Wolfsburg Frauen make an unlikely but pulsating comeback against Tyresö FF to claim their second consecutive European title.
Before the match had even started, anticipation was high amongst those who follow the sport. Tyresö at the time, boasted a wide array of talented stars which included Marta, Christen Press, Caroline Seger and more. VfL Wolfsburg, while not having as many renowned names, had their own talented players in their roster including the player of the match on that day, Nadine Keßler. The match had all the makings of one of the great European nights for either side and it certainly lived up to its billing.
After a slow start where both teams looked to feel each other out, Marta broke the game open with a lovely slaloming run in the 28th minute. Wolfsburg, up until that point, had seemed to have been coping well with their two-player midfield against Tyresö’s three but they had no answer for Marta as she took her game up another gear. The Brazilian superstar raced by Nilla Fischer and Josephine Henning before finishing low past Almuth Schult. Two minutes later, it went from bad to worse for the reigning champions. Christen Press produced a brilliant run of her own, drawing the two center backs with her to the byline before lifting the ball into the onrushing Verónica Boquete’s path. The Spaniard instantly volleyed the cross home and put the Swedish side two nil up before half-time.
With both Keßler and Lena Goeßling (who was now sporting a black thick bandage under her eye after getting injured in the 15th minute) looking dead on their feet and seemingly overrun, Wolfsburg would have been thanking their luck stars to be only two-nil down at the half-time break. Tyresö, and in particular Marta and Christen Press, were running their opponents ragged and looked completely dominant. It was clearly going to be a steady procession to their first ever Champions League title based on that first half performance. At least, that was what they and everyone else watching thought. Captain Nadine Keßler and her resilient Wolfsburg teammates had other ideas.
Ralf Kellermann made some tactical adjustments during the break and whatever he and his team told each other in that time period turned the game on its head. Kellermann gave Keßler the licence to push forward at every opportunity, which left Goeßling essentially manning the midfield by herself. It was an incredibly risky move by Kellermann but it worked as Keßler turned the tide and willed her team to the Champions League title. As a long time football fan, I’ve seen many matches that have been won by one brilliant individual performance; Carli Lloyd in 2015, Steven Gerrard many times throughout his Liverpool FC career, Lionel Messi in...almost every FC Barcelona match. That day at the Estádio do Restelo in Lisbon, Keßler took over the show and no one could stop her.
Let’s begin with Kellermann’s changes before we look at Keßler’s performance. The long-time Wolfsburg manager brought in Verena Faißt at half-time, changing Wolfsburg shape from a 4-2-3-1 into a 4-4-2 (which operated like a 4-1-3-2 for most of that second half). The switch caught Tyresö cold and unprepared, which meant that their most dangerous players, Press and Marta, were left either isolated or tracking back to try and plug in the gaps that had now appeared everywhere in their half. This would also have the knock on effect of leaving the Wolfsburg defenders with less to worry about as Press had become completely isolated and if Tyresö did manage to break away, Goeßling (who put in a monster performance of her own) was there to stop the attack and rotate the ball right back up the pitch again. His players had to see his adjustments through but Ralf Kellermann deserves full credit for not letting his team give up and for putting together a tactical plan that won them the Champions League title in 45 minutes.
The start of the comeback for the Germans came in the 47th minute. With them pushing forward as quickly as possible, Alexandra Popp found Anna Blässe open out wide and raced into the box to be the first one to meet Blässe’s whipped cross into the penalty area. Martina Müller then made it 2-2 in the 53rd minute when Whitney Engen misplayed the high line and the striker was able to race through on goal after a long ball over the top had been played into space. Müller made no mistake and the game was back on.
Things seemed to swing back in Tyresö’s favour as Marta produced another moment of magic in the 56th minute. Marta turned her defender inside out before curling a beautiful effort into the far corner of the goal. That, on any other day, would have been enough to win any team the Champions League but May 22nd wasn’t Marta’s day, it was Wolfsburg’s and it’s captain rose to the challenge when called upon.
Wolfsburg continued to push forward with Keßler at the heart of each possession and were rewarded for their pressure in the 68th minute. Keßler and Popp combined at the edge of the area before Popp slipped a great ball in for the substitute Faißt. With only the goalkeeper Carola Söberg to beat, Faißt made it look easy and tied the game up. This time, as the half started to reach its conclusion, it was the Swedish side that was tiring and the Germans looking to turn their dominance into goals. They found the winner they had been searching for in the 80th minute through Müller once again. Keßler showed great balance to go by Line Røddik tackle and continued on towards goal before squaring the ball right into Müller’s path. All the veteran striker had to do was throw a leg at the pass to get the winner and she did just that. A determined and brave performance found its deserved end as that 80th goal was enough for Wolfsburg to become the champions of Europe once again.
That Champions League final has become difficult to re-watch due to the lack of exposure the women’s game had at that time on major networks across the world but for those of us lucky enough to witness it, our hearts did not stop racing until the final whistle blew. It will be remembered as one of the greatest Champions League finals ever and cemented Wolfsburg’s position as one of Europe elite’s teams.