The Week in Women’s Football: A comprehensive review of Champions League qualifying rounds – Groups 1- 5

We review the 2019-20 European Women’s Champions League Qualification Round—looking at Groups 1-5 this week and Groups 6-10 next week.

Early August to some means the tail end of summer but to football fanatics it always means the start to the new Women’s Champions League Season, where for the 2019-20 season, 40 teams had a one-in-four chance to advance to the Round of 32 and perhaps draw a top seed in a high profile two-leg tie. A UEFA Women’s Champions League record 62 teams from 50 associations entered the 2019/20 UEFA Women’s Champions League and 40 of them were involved in the qualifying round, which ran from August 7 to August 13 with 10 groups of 4 teams, with one designated by UEFA as a host side. Unlike last season, in which the best two sides finishing second in their group advanced (12 in all), this season just the winners of each of the 10 groups move on. We look at how each of the 10 groups finished and look at the rosters on each team, focusing on any imports on the rosters.

Debutants to the Continental Club Championships this year included 6 clubs: Braga of Portugal, ŽNK Split of Croatia, Beşiktaş of Turkey, Flora Tallinn of Estonia, FC Nike of Georgia and Alashkert of Armenia (the first Armenian side in the competition since College Yerevan competed in the inaugural 2001/02 edition); they all played their first ever Women’s Champions League games during the Qualification Round, with Braga surprisingly advancing to the knockout stage.

In the first day of games on August 7 there were some blowouts, including: in Group 4 Minsk of Belarus defeating Bettembourge of Luxembourg 12-0, in Group 5 Spartak Subotica of Serbia blasting Anenii Noi of MDA 12-0, in Group 7 Apollon of Cyprus overcame RFS of LVA 10-0 and in Group 6 BIIK-Kazygurt of Kazakhstan shut out EBS/Skala of the Faroe Islands 9-0. On that first day of competition, Emuidzi Oghiabekhva of Minsk and Nigeria had 4 goals while American Myra Delgadillo, Serbian Tijana Filipovic and Kayla Adamek of Canada all had hat tricks for Spartak Subotica. Krystyna Freda of the U.S. and Rio Hardy of England had hat tricks for Apollon of Cyprus.

Some narrow wins on the first day were posted by PK-35 Vantaa of Finland over Flora of Estonia 3-2 in Group 6, Cardiff Met of Wales overcoming Pomurje of Slovenia by a 1-0 scoreline in Group 3 and ties between Breznica MNE and NSA of Bulgaria (4-4) in Group 2 and Bestiktas of Turkey and Gornik Leczna of Poland 1-1 in Group 9.

2018/19 UEFA Champions League First Round Group Stage Qualifiers

Group 1: Breidablik of Iceland

Group 2: Mitrovica of Kosovo

Group 3: Hibernian of Scotland

Group 4: FC Minsk of Belarus

Group 5: ŽFK Spartak Subotica of Serbia

Group 6: BIIK-Kazygurt of Kazakhstan

Group 7: Braga of Portugal

Group 8: Anderlecht of Belgium

Group 9: FC Twente of the Netherlands

Group 10: Vllaznia of Albania

Group 1: SFK 2000 Sarajevo (BIH, hosts), Breidablik (ISL), ASA Tel-Aviv University, ŽFK Dragon 2014 (MKD)

Briedablik of Iceland overwhelmed Dragon of North Macedonia 11-0 on August 10 on match day 2 with Berglind Thorvaldsdottir scoring 4 times, with one from the penalty spot, while SFK 2000 Sarajevo of Bosnia-Herzegovina pipped ASA Tel-Aviv 1-0 on Jasna Djokovic of Montenegro’s 79th minute goal.

In the last match day on August 13, in the battle of two unbeaten teams, Breidablik defeated the host side SFK 2000 Sarajevo 3-1 to advance to the round of 32. The Icelandic club reached the quarterfinals of the continental competition in 2006-07 and also advanced to the Round of 32 on their last appearance in 2010-11. Berglind Thorvaldsdotti scored a brace in the key match to take her tally to six goals in the Qualification round—tied for first with Emuidzi Oghiabekhva of Minsk.

Breidablik of Iceland used an entirely domestic-based squad with no imports on their team, somewhat surprising as Iceland’s domestic league always includes a lot of imports from around the world, including a number of younger players from the United States.

ZFK Dragon 2014 of North Macedonia also used an exclusively home-based squad.

ASA Tel-Aviv University had two North American imports: Brenna Rachel Connell from the U.S. (ex-George Mason University in Virginia) and Nkemjika Natalie Ezurike from Canada, who attended the University of Michigan from 2010-2013, played with the Boston Breakers in the NWSL, and then in Sweden with Vittsjo and Mallbackens IF; she is a full Canadian international and appeared at the Pan American games in Toronto in 2015.

Hosts SFK Saraejvo of Bosnia-Herzegovina included four players from Montenegro on their roster:

D Sanja Nedic

M Jasna Djokovic

F Tamara Bojat

F Armisa Kuc

In 2019-20 Saraejvo is participating in its 17th consecutive Women’s European Champions season, but has advanced to the knockout stage only three times, including last season.

Group 2: Universitatea Olimpia Cluj (ROU), NSA Sofia (BUL), Breznica Pljevlja (MNE, hosts), Mitrovica (KOS)

Mitrovica of Kosovo, in quite a surprise, won the group with 9 points, defeating second place Breznica Pljevlja of Montenegro (with 4 points) 1-0 on August 13, while Olimpia Cluj of Romania defeated NSA of Bulgaria 3-2, with Romanian international AndreeaVoicu’s hat trick for Cluj offsetting a Velina Koshuleva (Bulgarian international) brace for NSA. Last season Voicu played with Apollon Limasoll of Cyprus. Mitrovica first appeared in the WCL last season and lost all three games in the Qualifying Round by a 16-2 margin—this season they scored 5 goals with 1 against.

Olimpa Cluj was appearing in their eight Women’s Champions League since 2011-12, having advanced four times to the Round of 32 and once to the Round of 16 in 2012-13.

In this entirely Eastern European comprised group, Breznica Pljevlja of Montenegro, the hosts of Group 2, had three imports from Serbia, one from Slovenia and one from North Macedonia:

D Marijana Jankov—Serbia

M Marija Jonovic—Serbia

M Suzana Tanaskovic—Serbia

M Ana Milovic—Slovenia

M Simona Krstanovska—North Macedonia

KFF Mitrovica of Kosovo had a number of Albanians (7) in their 2019/20 UEFA Champions League team sheet, which makes sense as many Kosovo residents are of Albanian descent:

G Viona Rexhepi

D Endrina Elezaj

D Gresa Haziri

M Xhemile Berisha

F Ambra Gjegji

F Egzona Zeka

F Suada Jashari

NSA Sofia of Bulgaria’s only import was goalkeeper Viktorija Doneva of North Macedonia.

Olimpia Cluj of Romania is all home-based, using only Romanian players.

Group 3: Hibernian (SCO), Pomurje Beltinci (SVN, hosts), Cardiff Met (WAL), FC Nike (GEO)

On August 10—match day 2—in the all-U.K. battle, Hibernian defeated Cardiff Met 2-1 to sink the Welsh sides hopes of moving on while Pomurje Beltinci of Slovenia defeated FC Nike of Georgia 4-0, with two penalty kick goals by Slovenian national team defender Anja Prsa within the first 20 minutes setting up the Slovenian side with a lead that they would not relinquish.

Hibernian then sealed their ticket to the Round of 32 with a 2-1 win over their hosts Pomurje on August 13th while Cardiff Met ended a fine tournament with a 5-1 win over FC Nike, with American Madison Schupbach and England native Naomi Clipson both scoring twice.

Note: on the men’s side Cardiff Metropolitan lost 1-0 in Luxembourg to Progres Niederkorn in their European debut in the Europa League in late June.

Cardiff Metropolitan University of Wales had 7 England natives, 3 imports from the U.S, and one from Bermuda on their UEFA Champions League squad:

G Charlotte Smith—England

G Estelle Randall—England

D Aimee Dagnall—England

M Lucy Finch—England

M Naomi Clipston—England

M Amy Long—England

M Stacey Ayling—England

D Nanette Kennesha—Bermuda

M Micaela Milavec—USA (ex-New Mexico State University)

D Alexis Rienks—USA (ex-University of Nebraska)

F Madison Schupbach—USA

Schupbach, a native of the Detroit Metropolitan area, played at Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio. She has scored over 20 goals in league and cup play for Cardiff Metropolitan University this past season. Schupbach played two seasons with the United Women Soccer League’s Detroit Sun. Matt Fannon, her head coach for her senior year at Bowling Green and a native of York, England, told the Detroit News earlier this year that he was not surprised that Schupbach has adjusted so well in Wales: “Knowing the type of player Maddie is and knowing the style of soccer and the type of soccer on the women’s side in the UK, I knew Maddie was always going to be really, really successful, mainly because Maddie is just so dedicated and so single-minded and so competitive that she was always going to make it work. She has got so many things that the average British female player just doesn’t have just because of her American upbringing, to be honest with you, with the opportunity here in the women’s game she’s had.” Schupbach registered 10 goals and 14 assists in four years at Bowling Green, where she was All Mid-American Conference First Team in her senior season and was named All MAC All Academic three consecutive years 2015-17. She is studying for a Master’s degree at Cardiff Metropolitan.

The Archers are the most successful Women’s Welsh Premier League team after winning the title five times (2011–12, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18 and 2018–19) and finished 8 points clear of Cardiff City to win the league title again last season.

FC Nike of Tbilisi, Georgia has two imports from Turkey and one from Belarus, with two being goalkeepers:

G Ekaterina Miklashevich—Belarus

G Ezgi Caglar—Turkey

D Seval Kirac—Turkey

Pomurje Beltinci of Slovenia also had three imports, two from Serbia and one from Croatia:

G Ljiljana Gardijan—Croatia (The 30 year old keeper formerly played with ZFK Spartak in Serbia, who are also participating in this year’s WCL).

D Ivana Erac—Serbia

D Tijana Jankovic—Serbia

Hibernian of Scotland’s 23 player roster for the Qualification Round were all home-based.

Group 4: FC Minsk (BLR), Kharkiv (UKR, hosts), ŽNK Split (CRO), Bettembourg (LUX)

In the second day of group matches on August 10, Minsk of Belarus defeated Split of Croatia 2-1 with goals by Ukrainian international midfielder Tamila Khimich (who later was ejected from the match in injury time for her second yellow card offense) in the 13th minute followed by a 65th minute winner from Emuidzhi Ogbiagbevha of Nigeria, after Ana Dujmovic of Croatia equalized in the 33rd minute for Split. Bettembourg was blasted again, this time 6-0 by Kharkiv, after their 12-0 defeat to Minsk on match day 1.

Minsk advanced to the knockout stage with a 2-0 win over Kharkiv on August 13 on the last match day with another Ogbiahbevha goal, along with a winner from Anastasia Linnik of Belarus. Bettembourg finished bottom of the group but at least scored their only two WCL goals in a 7-2 loss to Split, as 17-year-old Luxembourg native Kate Thill scored twice for the Luxembourg team while Ana Dujmovic scored a hat trick for the winners. Ogbiahvevha finished tied for the goalscoring lead after the Qualification Round with six goals, with Berglind Thorvaldsdottir of Briedablik of Iceland, who both have the chance to add to their tallies since their teams move on in the tournament.

Bettembourg of Luxembourg had eight foreign imports and overall has an extremely young squad, with forward Lucia Camila Ruiz Rojas of France only 15 years of age, while Marta Joana and Tira Garcia—both of Portugal—are 17. There are a total of 4 imports from France, 3 from Portugal and 1 from Germany:

D Kim Nilles—Germany

D Nancy Ferreira—Portugal

M Marta Joana—Portugal

M Lea Pizzimenti—France

M Stessy Musselek—France

M Justine Nathalie Rose Oswald—France

F Lucia Camila Ruiz Rojas—France

F Rita Garcia—Portugal

Minsk of Belarus has two Ukrainians, one from Russia and five imports from Africa:

D Lyubov Shmatko—Ukraine

M Tamila Khimich—Ukraine

D Maria Galay—Russia

D Alvine Njolle—Cameroon

M Nadege Cissi—Ivory Coast

M Rachel Sabati—South Africa

F Letago Madiba—South Africa

F Emueje Ogbiagbevha—Nigeria (She is a Nigerian international who played previously in Russia and in Kazakhstan with BIIK Kazygurt.)

Sebati and Madiba both joined the 5-time Belarussian champions this summer from Tshwane University of Technology at home in South Africa and are on one-year contracts.

Kharkiv of the Ukraine had two Russian imports and one from Armenia, with all being 30 years of age or older:

D Kristine Aleksanyan—Armenia (30), who has played her club football in the past in Russia and won 4 league titles—2 with Zvezda Perm, one with Rossiyanka and 1 with Ryazan.

D Alevtina Utitskikh—Russia (31), played for many years at Ryazan at home and won a league title in 2013, in addition to last season’s championship in Ukraine with Kharkiv.

D Zhanna Sanina—Russia (35), also played for years at Ryazan.

Forward Daryna Apanaschenko (33) is a long-time Ukrainian international and played in Russia for years at Perm.

ŽNK Split (CRO) had a variety of imports for their debut season in the Women’s Champions League, including two from Serbia and two from Australia, though Aussie Laura Spiranovic has Croatian citizenship and could play for them internationally. They also have a Brazilian, an Italian and a Slovenian. They won their league title in 2018-19 by narrowing pipping ZNK Osijek, the 22 time league champion. Their imports this season include:

G Karolainy Alves—Brazil

D Milica Smiljkovic—Serbia

M Jelena Varda—Serbia

F Nina Predanic—Slovenia

M Sonia Maria O’Neill—Italy. She played with Bari last season and played collegiately at the University of North Florida and Niagara University in New York and competed for Canada on their national fustal team.

M Marianna Tabain—Australia (26). An A-League original with Perth Glory in the 2008/09 season, she won two titles with Melbourne City in 2015 and 2016, scoring 30 W-League goals in 116 regular season W-League games.

F Laura Spiranovic—Australia/Croatia. Born in Australia, she played for Melbourne Victory (8 goals in 45 matches over 6 seasons) and her brother is Perth Glory and Australian international Matthew Spiranovic.

Group 5: ŽFK Spartak (SRB), Ferencváros (HUN), Slovan Bratislava (SVK, hosts), Agarista – SS Anenii Noi (MDA)

In another all-Eastern European group,Spartak of Serbia and Ferencvaros of Hungary played out an exciting 2-2 tie on August 13, leaving both sides unbeaten and tied at the top of the group with 7 points, with the Serbian team advancing with a goal difference of +19 to only +4 for the Hungarian side. After their 12-0 dismantling by Spartak in the first game, Agarista – SS Anenii Noi of Moldova—in their second consecutive Champions League campaign, having lost all three games to Eastern European opponents by a 1-11 scoreline in 2018-19—fell by a single goal (1-0) to Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia (3 points). This time, Agarista – SS Anenii Noi finished with 0 points and a 0-15 goals for/against record.

Hosts Slovan Bratislava had their entire roster from Slovakia, while Agarista – SS Anenii Noi of Moldova had one import in 16-year-old Yelyzaveta Indycha of the Ukraine.

Ferencvaros of Hungary had 6 imports, all from Eastern Europe, with three from Bosnia and Herzegovina:

D Marija Aleksic—Bosnia and Herzegovina

D Melisa Hasanbegovic—Bosnia and Herzegovina

M Selma Kapetanovic—Bosnia and Herzegovina

D Inna Zlidnis—Estonia

D Kristina Erman—Slovenia

F Viktoria Nagy—Slovakia

Spartak Subotica of Serbia went primarily with a home-based roster, supplemented by six North Americans who ranged from age 21 to 24. Last season for the Women’s Champions League qualification round, the side had two Americans, two Brazilian forwards and a forward from Ghana but all of them are now gone, replaced with the following:

D Haley Lukas—US (23), who won the Cup last season in Poland with KKPK Medyk Konin and played at the University of California.

M Kayla Adamek—Canada (24), who went to school at the University of Central Florida and was with the Orlando Pride in 2018 but did not see any action.

M Molly Fieldler—US (22), who finished her career last fall at the University of Minnesota.

M Taylor Porter—US (21) (ex-Marshall University in West Virginia)

F Myra Delgadillo—US (23) (ex-Fresno State University in California)

F Mariah Williams—US (ex-University of Albany in New York, where she is the all-time leader in career and single season goals and points.)

Note: Next Week we review 2019-20 UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifying Groups 6-10.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women’s football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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