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Magic in Manchester

The first of many historic European nights...

Manchester City Women v Real Madrid Women - UEFA Women’s Champions League - Round Two - Second Leg - Academy Stadium Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Real Madrid Club de Fútbol has always had a unique relationship with the UEFA Champions League. Many of the club’s signature moments have come under the lights in European competitions. Tonight was another one of those nights.

Real Madrid Femenino have qualified for the UEFA Women’s Champions League group stages for the first time in their history. It wasn’t easy and it’s been a long journey but a 1-0 win against Manchester City in England capped off this amazing journey and it is just the start of Las Blancas’ romance with Madridistas’ favorite competition.

And the way they qualified to even face City was quite romantic, with Madrid defying the odds last season. Only one team from each league directly qualifies for the UWCL. It was a foregone conclusion that FC Barcelona would win the league in 2020/21, so Las Blancas needed to finish in second or third.

Las Blancas secured a spot against a direct rival in Real Sociedad, but things started badly. La Real made it a two-goal lead right after the start of the second half via the penalty spot. The situation was dire but fans expect Real Madrid to fight to the end - Hasta el Final, Vamos Real.

Real Madrid embodied that spirit intrinsically linked with the white shirt and never gave up. Kosovare Asllani halved the deficit in the 71st minute and then right back Kenti Robles scored ten minutes later to tie the match. Jessica Martínez went on to score the winner in the 84th minute to guarantee that Las Blancas would have the chance to fight for Champions League qualification. It was a late remontada, something that Las Blancas had managed to accomplish on multiple occasions throughout the 20/21 season.

The draw that would decide Real Madrid’s opponent in the UWCL qualifiers took place on Aug. 22. Las Blancas were given one of the hardest possible opponents: Manchester City. City finished just behind Chelsea in the Women’s Super League last campaign and made it to the UWCL quarterfinal, where they were knocked out by Barcelona.

Manchester City were heavy favorites heading into the match. This status only increased as devastating news spilled out of the Real Madrid camp. Las Blancas’ best player, Marta Cardona, tore her meniscus and last season’s top scorer Kosovare Asllani was diagnosed with COVID-19. The news worsened when it was announced that star midfielder Maite Oroz also picked up an injury.

City had to deal with an injury crisis of their own but they strutted into the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano full of confidence that they were a level above Real Madrid.

“People might think that, because of their name, Real are an experienced team but they’re not,” said former Barcelona captain and current Cityzen Vicky Losada. “This is only their second season in the Spanish league. They have very talented players but the girls are still getting to know each other.”

Despite “the girls still getting to know each other,” Real Madrid outplayed Manchester City in Madrid. They created the majority of the chances and even missed a penalty kick in the first half. City made Las Blancas pay, as good teams do.

Caroline Weir pounced on a loose ball and hammered it into the back of the net. City had the better of the play for the majority of the second half but Las Blancas turned it up a notch in the final minutes.

It looked like this good performance would be wasted and Real Madrid would be left with a mountain to climb in Manchester until Kenti Robles arrived in the box to score in second-half stoppage time. The Mexican’s goal solidified a draw that felt like a win for Real Madrid and a loss for a City team that just couldn’t get across the finish line.

Real Madrid traveled to England needing to win if they were going to progress to the UWCL group stages. Las Blancas were the better team throughout the first half again. In the 32nd minute, avowed Madridista Nahikari García ran onto a deflected Claudia Zornoza pass and finished exquisitely. She thought she had scored an all-important opener and her first official goal for Real Madrid.

The flag came up and the goal was wrongly disallowed, as Nahikari had held her run expertly. It felt like this was a repeat of the first leg. Las Blancas outplayed City but had nothing to show for it. That was until Claudia Zornoza rocketed the ball into the back of the net just at the stroke of halftime.

Kenti Robles won the corner with a stunning shot of her own. Teresa Abelleira played the ensuing corner kick into the box and it was punched out to Zornoza. The midfielder struck the ball with force at the keeper, whose view was shielded by her own player. The keeper reacted late and the ball deflected off of her and into the back of the net.

City needed a goal and pressed for one throughout the second half and their urgency only increased as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark. Real Madrid defended valiantly as a unit and as individuals. The forwards never stopped chasing the ball, the midfielders got stuck in whenever they could, and the defense came up clutch time after time.

The final whistle blew after four minutes of added time and the elation of Las Blancas was palpable. Real Madrid Femenino had qualified for the UWCL group stages for the first time in their history. It has been a long process — from the acquisition of CD Tacon to the remontada against La Real and everything in between — but this has been the objective since the team’s inception. And they capped it off with two brilliant, dramatic, and historic European nights in true Real Madrid fashion.

Las Blancas fought to the end and overcame Manchester City against all odds. A right back and a midfielder scored the crucial goals while the entire team put in a grueling defensive shift. This is the start of something new for the women wearing the white shirts and there is much more to come from them on these magical nights. But, for now, let’s celebrate this moment in Manchester because we are witnessing history in real time and nights like these are what make Real Madrid, Real Madrid.

Manchester City v Real Madrid - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images