GLASGOW City hope to complete a momentous week for Scottish teams and also set up a last 16 tie against Arsenal when they host Standard Liege in the Uefa Women’s Champions League tonight.
The seven-times Scottish champions hold the edge, having held their Belgian counterparts to a 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne. Nevertheless, head coach Eddie Wolecki Black is more aware than anyone that their home results in Europe’s premier competition haven’t matched their away ones.
Although this is the third successive season City have qualified for the knock-out stages, they have yet to win in front of their own fans at Petershill Park. The closest they came was two seasons ago, also in the last 32, when they drew 1-1 with Icelandic champions Valur before going on to win the away leg 3-0.
A similar result tonight would, of course, see them through to meet Arsenal and set up the latest so-called Battle of Britain. Equally, Wolecki Black hopes to spare those who pack into the council-owned ground any such down-to-the-wire drama.
“We came back from Liege with a good result but our team is far better than they showed on the night,” he insisted. “We know where we went wrong last week and we know how to fix it.
“Standard Liege are one of the best counter-attacking teams we’ve ever faced. They have clever players at the top end of the park, a game plan they stick to rigidly – and they are very efficient at it.
“We’re not going to be silly and go gung-ho, but we certainly won’t be defensive. It’s about getting the correct balance. If this team play the way I know they can play, I’ll be able to sit back and relax.”
Wolecki Black, who also has the vast experience of Welsh captain Jess Fishlock to rely on, believes that central defender Rachel Corsie and attacking midfielder Suzanne Lappin, hold the key to his side’s performance tonight.
Corsie, the club captain, shows a maturity way beyond her 24 years, while Lappin, who is three years older, has scored a remarkable 29 goals in just 27 games this season – four of them in Europe, including both goals in the first leg.
“These two are the ones who really set the tempo of our team,” Wolecki Black pointed out. “If they set the standard high they could be inspirational and pull the rest of the players with them. Sometimes you need that in games with a lot of pressure.”
Standard Liege will fancy a crack against Arsenal themselves, and are also bidding to reach the last 16 for the first time after falling at this hurdle in the last three attempts. Last season they finished runners-up to FC Twente in the inaugural BeNe League and sit fourth in the same competition this year.
The Belgians warmed up for tonight’s game with a 6-1 win over ADO Den Haag at the weekend and last night trained at Petershill Park. They would have found the ground, which has an artificial pitch, considerably less salubrious than the Stade Maurice Dufrasne, which is home to the Standard Liege men’s team.
By contrast City, whose rise has been inspirational, are a stand-alone club and while everything they do is professional, the players are classified as amateurs. Typical of these is the prolific Lappin.
An accountant by profession – as, by a remarkable coincidence, is Corsie – she employs a personal trainer to work out before starting her day job. Then, five evenings a week, she trains with her club.
She rejoined City last season after stints with Liverpool and Chelsea when she went to work in London. Her coach is a long-term admirer.
“Everybody looks at her goals but she brings far more to the team than that,” said Wolecki Black. “Suzanne keeps the ball for us well and helps us defend.
“I’ve gone on record as saying she’s one of the best female players we’ve ever had in this country. If she keeps going like that I’ll be happy, that’s for sure.”
Arsenal, who beat Kazhak champions Kairat 7-1 in the first leg, will complete their last 32 formalities at Borehamwood this afternoon.