The UWCL Last 32 Preview

Both Glasgow City and Hibernian compete in the Last 32 of the UEFA Women’s Champions League on Wednesday night. City, who were seeded, travel to Russia to face FC Chertanovo whilst unseeded Hibernian, who came through qualifying in Slovenia last month, have been handed a tough test in the shape of Czech side SK Slavia Praha.

Here at Leading the Line we thought we’d bring you the lowdown on the challenges both sides may face as they look to book their place in the next round.

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How they qualified?

FC Chertanovo ensured a debut appearance in the UEFA Women’s Champions League after finishing 2nd in the 2018 Russian Women’s Football Championships seven points behind champions Ryazan-VDV, although that runners up spot wasn’t secured until the last day of the season. On a dramatic final day a draw with the newly crowned champions proved to be enough to overhaul closest challengers Zvezda-2005 who at the same time were losing 2-0 to 3rd placed CSKA Moskva. That loss for Zvezda meant that Chertanovo secured European football by just a single point.

Their luck continued as they then avoided pre-qualification for the knockout stages as a result of Russia being ranked one place higher than Scotland in the latest UEFA co-efficients standings. That said, with no track record in the tournament to call upon, they did enter the draw for the Last 32 as one of the 16 unseeded sides.

FC Chertanovo Away

When Glasgow City kick off in the Russian capital this Wednesday they will have undertaken a six and half hour flight to meet their opponents with the journey complicated by pilot strikes with the team heading to Russia via Berlin as opposed to London. Moscow itself sits over 2000 miles away from the red sandstone tenements of Springburn and Scott Booth’s side will also have to quickly adjust as kick off time at Sport Gorodok will be two hours ahead of GMT and less than 24 hours after their arrival.

Travel will play a part for both sides, especially for those players who will be working their schedule around work commitments, but whilst the distance is far, Moscow should prove to be hospitable both in terms of the city and the climate, although temperatures in the mid 20’s are currently predicted come kick off.

Form Guide

Sergey Lavrentyev’s side currently sit 6th in the 8 team top tier after 16 rounds of fixtures. Their record of three wins, five draws and eight defeats mean that avoiding relegation will be the primary concern domestically after they were convincingly eliminated from the Russian Cup by Lokomotiv Moskva, losing 7-0 on aggregate back in July.

They have failed to defeat any of the sides in the top half of the table so far this season and are currently on a run of just one win in five games with that victory coming three weeks ago against second bottom Yenisey with an 89th minute goal from Zhoze-Diana Tchato securing a 2-1 victory.

Key Players

The loss of Russian internationalists Melli Korovkina and Marina Kiskonen saw the Muscovites start the season with a 15 goal gap in their arsenal as the 2nd and 3rd top goalscorers from the 2018 Russian Championship season moved on to pastures new in the shape of the aforementioned Lokomotiv and Kuopion Palloseura in Finland, respectively.

The emergence of 18 year old midfielder pair Alsu Abdullina and Kristina Komissarova has helped to soften the blow with the latter currently leading her sides scoring charts with five goals to her name. Both teenagers have been capped by their national side and their involvement in midfield alongside Julia Bessolova could be key to any potential success. 28-year-old Ekaterina Morozova and 31-year-old Julia Gordeeva bring some experience to the sides defence and to a squad with an average age of just over 19.

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How they qualified? 

This will be Slavia’s 7th UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign after they finished second to city rivals Sparta in the 2018-19 Czech First Division. In fact, the only two defeats Michael Kolomaznik’s side suffered during the campaign were against their city rivals as Sparta would go on to win the league, claiming maximum points from all 14 games in the process.

As well as being Slavia’s 7th Champions League appearance it is also their sixth in succession and they have progressed as far as the Quarter-Finals during their two last forays, falling to German opposition on both occasions. In 2017/18, they were defeated 6-1 on aggregate by VfL Wolfsburg whilst last season they suffered a 6-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich, a team who eliminated Hibernian at the Last 32 stage of the tournament back in 2016-17. On each occasion Slavia were handed heavy away defeats although both German giants would be held 1-1 on home turf.

This pedigree ensured the Czech’s were seeded come draw time.

SK Slavia Praha Away 

Prague is easily accessible via direct flights from Scotland’s two biggest cities whilst the one hour time difference to the Czech capital shouldn’t prove a challenge.

Stadion Na Chvalech, home to Slavia Prague, is situated towards the north east of the city and is part of a wider sports complex. Grant Scott and his team can also take comfort in the fact that both the climate and the playing surface will be considerably better than what was experienced during qualifying in Slovenia.

Form Guide 

Ominous. The four time First Division champions have a made a strong start to the 2019/20 season and currently sit top of the 8 team table having played three and won three, scoring 23 goals in the process. Whilst their opening victories have included an 8-0 defeat of Viktoria Plzen and 13-1 win against Pardubice the most significant scoreline occurred in between these drubbings as they defeated rivals Sparta, coming from 1-0 down to win 2-1 in front of a 300 strong crowd.

Key Players 

Attacking midfielder Katerina Svitkova scored the winner in August’s derby fixture and is one of a number of Slavia players to take the field during the Czech Republic’s 7-0 Euro 2021 qualifying victory away to Moldova, a game in which Svitkova scored a double. The midfielder also scored the goal that sealed a draw with Bayern in front of record crowd in last season’s quarters and will be a goalscoring threat from midfield that will require some monitoring. A challenge made tougher with the news that Kirsten Reilly has decided to move on to pastures new.

Further up the pitch another Czech international, striker Petra Divisova, will bring experience to the front line. The 35-year-old has been capped 50 times for her country and has a goalscoring record better than a goal a game for Slavia whilst there may also be a familiar face in the Slavia backline in the shape of Canadian defender Kylla Sjoman who had a short spell with Celtic between 2013-15.

Final Verdict

Both Glasgow City and Hibernian have reasons to be optimistic. There will be no underestimating the size of the challenge the Edinburgh side face against experienced European campaigners but the Leith side have developed a knack for cup competitions in recent seasons and have a step of play that could spring a surprise and heading to Prague still in the tie will remain the primary aim.

City’s task feels a little more like a leap into the unknown but as they showed against Somatio Barcelona in last season’s tournament it’s a challenge they are more than capable of meeting over the course of two legs.

I’ll be at Easter Road on Wednesday night and I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a competitive game in front of a big Edinburgh crowd.

Remember you can follow the latest flights of fancy from Leading the Line on Twitter @MFPTasty.

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