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Women’s Champions League final: Pain of defeat ‘motivating’ Barcelona ahead of clash with Wolfsburg

By Matias Grez, CNN

(CNN) — The pain of defeat from last season’s Women’s Champions League final has lingered at Barcelona.

After a perfect domestic season with 30 wins from 30 games and a Champions League campaign in which the team barely broke a sweat, Barcelona arrived in Turin last year as the overwhelming favorite to lift the trophy for a second straight season.

Even faced with a resurgent Lyon, Barcelona was expected to come out on top.

To say, then, that a 3-0 deficit after just half an hour was a surprise would be something of an understatement.

Though the team did pull a goal back before half time, it was left with too much of a mountain to climb as Lyon lifted its second Champions League trophy in three years and eighth overall.

The defeat was perhaps even more painful for midfielder Ingrid Engen, who was on the receiving end of a another 3-1 final defeat to Lyon a year earlier while playing for Wolfsburg.

Engen, who moved to Barcelona a year after that defeat, says memories of last season’s loss have “definitely” inspired everybody at the club throughout this current campaign.

“It’s motivating when you don’t get the result you want and I think this team is very curious about how we can improve, both the players and the staff,” Engen told CNN Sport.

“So I think the focus was on there from the beginning, like how can we improve to be at a better level for the next year and obviously go through this whole way.

“It’s been a journey to come to the final.”

‘How to right the wrongs’

Barcelona’s road to this year’s final has certainly been bumpier than the last.

There was no group stage clean sweep – this season Barça suffered a defeat to Bayern Munich – and the team was pushed all the way by Chelsea in a narrow 2-1 aggregate win in the semifinals.

These might seem like the standard trials and tribulations teams must face to reach the final of the Champions League, but there is nothing standard about this Barcelona team that often borders on perfection.

The defeat to Lyon also prompted the club to freshen up the playing squad, with three-time Champions League winner Lucy Bronze one of the marquee additions.

Bronze, winner of FIFA’s The Best award in 2020, said “one of the first conversations” she had with manager Jonatan Giráldez after joining was about how the team “had learned probably most of their lessons literally from that one game.”

“That was a huge focus then this season,” she told CNN Sport.

“Wanting to improve certain things in the team and I think that’s the mentality of a top team, is wanting to fix things for a final that we weren’t even in yet because we had that belief and that mentality that we would make the final, that we would get there and that when we do get there, we know how to right the wrongs of previous experiences.

“I think that’s something similar to the feeling that I had when I played for Lyon.”

‘We are capable of defeating Barcelona’

When the two teams line up in Eindhoven, the Netherlands on Saturday, Engen will face some familiar faces.

The Norway international still maintains close contact with a number of the Wolfsburg squad, but says texts and phone calls have been kept to a minimum in the build up to the final.

“Of course, it’s special emotions and feelings when you meet the club and players that you’ve had a really close relationship to in my two years there,” she said.

“I’m close with Lena Oberdorf from my last year there, so it’s going to be special to meet them. I’ve been in a final with them also, so it’s special.”

Still only 21, Oberdorf is considered one of German football’s brightest prospects and played a key role in the national team’s run to the Euro 2022 final, earning the award for Young Player of the Tournament and a place in the team of the tournament.

After adding a place in FIFA’s World XI and fourth place in the Ballon d’Or voting to her resumé, she has continued her meteoric rise this season and cemented her status as one of the world’s best midfielders.

If Wolfsburg is to stand any chance on Saturday, Oberdorf will need to be at her supreme best.

It may seem like a lot of pressure to put on such young shoulders, but Oberdorf – and much of this Wolfsburg squad – has the experience of already having faced this Barcelona side.

The team lost the first leg of last season’s semifinal against Barcelona 5-1 and although Wolfsburg was eliminated 5-3 on aggregate, the 2-0 second-leg win has given head coach Tommy Stroot confidence that his side can come out on top in a one-off match.

“Last season, there was only a week between the two games and we managed to win the second leg,” Stroot told UEFA. “It was a completely different game. Those games helped us to shift up a gear in our development. Now it has been a year since our last game instead of a week, and that’s what we want to show in Eindhoven.

“We are capable of defeating Barcelona in a game; that will be our challenge,” he added. “We know that it is the biggest challenge that we will face this season, in regard to opponents, but we also know it’s possible.

“It will be an occasion that none of us will forget. No matter how old we are, we will always be able to look back on this. Playing in a Champions League final will be a great moment in our careers.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine what winning the trophy and bringing it back to Wolfsburg would mean.”

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