After another record-breaking night at Camp Nou in front of over 90,000 spectators, we examine the magical frenzy Barça Femeni have created amongst their supporters.
They did it again.
For the second time in a month, more than 91,500 people flocked to Camp Nou to revel in Barça Femeni’s brilliance. The first such occasion came on March 30, in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal between Barcelona Femeni and Real Madrid Femenino, where some 91,553 people descended upon Barcelona’s Les Corts neighborhood and shattered the attendance record for a women’s football match.
That contest, a 5-2 victory in which Barça Femeni (GASP!) trailed for a bit, featured a shocking and spectacular 45-yard chip, an almost eerie Lionel Messi impersonation, a glorious strike from Claudia Pina, a goal from the unofficial (for now) “Reina de Barcelona” — reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas — and a postgame celebration that defies words.
In its aftermath, talk around the sport rightfully anointed it a “before and after” moment for women’s football.
Then they went out and did it again.
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In light of the monumental success of that maiden voyage, the club quickly announced that Femini’s next Champions League home date, the first leg of their semifinal tie against Wolfsburg, would also be held at Camp Nou. That first outing had revealed the extent to which sheer brilliance — whether conjured by men or women — would capture the imagination. There was, however, some interest as to whether the magic of that night against Real Madrid could be recaptured. The answers came flying in, quickly and emphatically.
An initial 50,000 tickets released exclusively to socios vanished within hours. The next morning, somewhere around 9:30 a.m. local time, the remainder went on sale on the Barça website. As I had been the first time around, I was fortunate enough to score one of these. I can also confirm that successfully doing so before availability of seats in entire sections and tiers of tickets vanished was a challenge. In the following days, rumors gained momentum that the attendance record set against Madrid would be short-lived. But would the occasion live up?
Almost go time! pic.twitter.com/MGsWRvwyVk
— Emile A (@hardwoodhype) April 22, 2022
I made my way to the stadium exactly as I had previously, on foot, on one of the city’s main arteries, Avinguda Diagonal. Like before, the closer I got to the stadium, the heavier the proliferation of Barça jerseys, flags, and scarves — and palpable excitement. Maybe, no surely, some of these were folks who’d missed out the first time around and were not going to let history slip past them again. However, there was no novelty here. More than anything, the occasion felt like what it actually was: an enthralled crowd, eager to watch their superstars — the best the sport currently has to offer — on the game’s biggest stage. And having a good time in the meantime.
By kickoff, the place was buzzing. That, without exaggeration, Barça’s lineup of apex predators created six or seven genuine chances in the first 12 minutes only fed the festive atmosphere.
Alexia started things off with an opening minute shot on goal, and then Aitana officially coronated the match with a perfectly-timed run to open up the scoring two minutes later.
The onslaught continued — Fridolina Rolfö and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic put shots just wide, and Carolina Graham Hansen made the angels sing in the 10th with an absurd worldie. (A quick aside: CGH is a damn treasure. Does the spectacular as well and as nonchalantly as anyone, and every subtle move is inch-perfect.)
It was clear that Barça were locked in from the jump. That it took another 23 minutes for the third tally — despite another half-dozen(ish) decent chances — did little to dampen the mood.
Once Jenni Hermoso opened her Camp Nou account in the 33rd, there was no denying that this — unlike the Madrid game, or even the last home game against Villarreal, in which Barça trailed 1-0 at half before scoring six in the second half — was more theatrical performance than competition.
Eventually, it was time for Alexia. She met a beautiful through ball from Patri Guijarra, and though her strike caught a piece of Wolfsburg keeper Almuth Schult, the ball, displaying a keen sense of the moment, bounced seemingly in slow motion toward the net, and kissed the right post. Though the ball would have trickled past the goal line on its own, Alexia was there to stuff it in the net for a fourth, to a fan serenade previously reserved for…well, you know who.
It really wasn’t my intention to breathlessly describe every twist and turn of this match, but it’s worth highlighting that, after a single half in front of the largest crowd that any of them had ever previously played before, Femeni showed themselves to be not just up to, but somehow bigger than this massive moment.
It’s worth noting that Barça’s second half showing was decidedly less-than-spectacular, due likely to the sense that the game had not only been put to bed, but that the fight had been taken out of Wolfsburg. To the German side’s credit, they continue to battle and, after some wobbles in the Barça defense, in the 70th, Jill Roord, on a perfectly-timed run of her own, slotted into the bottom corner past Sandra Paños to make the score 4-1.
To be fair, at no point did it feel as though the game, or even the tie, was in doubt. For a couple of minutes, however, there was a flickering fear that, after the delirium of the first half, a sputtering to the finish line was in store. As they always do, of course, Femeni quickly righted the ship, with six clear-cut chances between the 74th and 83rd minutes: Four for star striker Asisat Oshoala, who’d come on as a second half sub after being sidelined since mid-February, and one apiece for Alexia and up-and-coming goal magnet Claudia Pina.
The flurry didn’t yield a goal, but it did restore the vibe — just in time for a sloppy tackle by Wolfsburg’s Dominique Janssen in the area on Alexia. Unsurprisingly, the Barça icon made no mistake. 5-1, Barça. Party back on, to the sweet soundtrack of, “Alexia… Alexia… Alexia…”
Then came confirmation:
— Emile A (@hardwoodhype) April 22, 2022
They did it again. And, again, no one wanted to see it end.
I’ve had the privilege (I don’t use that word lightly) to be in attendance for both games. There was certainly a “first time frenzy” against Real Madrid that may genuinely be irreplicable. Plus, there were actual moments of competitive peril — which themselves seem like one-offs at the moment. HOWEVER…
Each of these nights was pure magic. All good, all around.
best team in the world pic.twitter.com/goLRWp8gg7
— caroline graham stansen (@ashnaguliani) April 22, 2022
Maybe it’s the newness and this, like every other momentarily irresistible craze will become old hat, and fade. Maybe — and this is exceedingly sad to contemplate right now — the big bucks will come (and they will, probably sooner rather than later) and sap the purity from these moments. Maybe (it certainly doesn’t hurt) it’s the sheer dominance of this team at this moment. After all, 40 for 40 in all competitions, with a silly 197 goals scored, and just 13 conceded, with 34 straight league wins (across seasons), wins in 64 of 65 dating back to 2019-20, and a single defeat in 82 league outings is going to turn some heads.
Though, for a minute, I’d like to set all cynicism aside. The Barcelona men’s side has drawn a single crowd during the 2021-22 season within 15,000 of either of these evenings. And that crowd – the second leg of Barça’s Europa League quarterfinal against Eintracht Frankfurt, in which the teams came in tied 1-1 — fell more than 12,000 short of either of these nights.
Maybe, just maybe, we can try to have nice things. Maybe there do still exist moments in which we can appreciate everything not just that’s cool and awesome about sports but, in a way that’s increasingly rare at the highest levels. We can purely and earnestly celebrate the relationship that can exist between players and fans. Maybe.
Maybe I’m just a dopey romantic who refuses to see the train barreling down the tracks. But this feels pretty damn good right now.