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Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas: Camp Nou game a turning point for the sport

Alexia Putellas led Barcelona's comeback win over Real Madrid in the first quarterfinal leg last week. (Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Barcelona and Real Madrid’s UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinal will be one for the history books, with the two clubs set to face off in front of a record crowd at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

The second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal is the third El Clásico women’s rivalry game in the last month, with Barcelona holding a 2-0 record over Real Madrid and a 3-1 aggregate lead in the Champions League battle.

Tickets for Wednesday’s marquee match sold out two months ahead of time. Barcelona’s women’s team has played at the historic Camp Nou stadium just once before. That 50th-anniversary game between Barcelona and Espanyol, honoring the first women’s game ever played at the venue, was held behind closed doors without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This time, over 80,000 spectators will be in attendance. If that number holds, the match will break the record for the largest attendance at a women’s domestic club game. Barcelona currently holds the domestic club record, with 60,739 showing up to the team’s 2019 game against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas visited Camp Nou often as a child, but she never imagined herself playing in the stadium. The 28-year-old star is trying her best to keep a level head amid the excitement of the moment.

“I have been in Camp Nou so many times all my life. Tomorrow is me playing, but at the end of the day, it’s the same as Johan Cruyff field,” Putellas told reporters on Tuesday, referring to their usual home stadium that seats 6,000 spectators. “I think the time has come … we, the players, feel now empowered and ready to play in front of so many people, such a large audience.”

The game will also serve as a celebration of the growth of women’s soccer and a push for equity. The words “More than Empowerment” will appear on the Lateral terrace as a reminder of its significance.

“I believe that tomorrow can be the start of a new era, because at the end of the day, tomorrow’s match is going to be inspiring for so many girls, I am guessing, that will be coming tomorrow to Camp Nou or who will be seeing us from TV,” Putellas said. “They will be seeing women playing in Camp Nou, and I am sure in the future, in the mid or long run, we will be collecting the fruits of tomorrow’s match.”

The bubbling enthusiasm off the pitch will almost certainly be matched by the intensity on the pitch, with both sides eager to meet the moment.

“Of course, we are aware of the fact that players have a special feeling regarding tomorrow’s match, but when it comes to preparation and training, nothing has changed,” said Barcelona coach Jonatan Giráldez.

Barcelona, the reigning UEFA Champions League winners, are considered by many to be the most dominant club in women’s soccer. The team enters Wednesday’s second leg on a staggering 35-game win streak across all competitions. Barcelona clinched the league title for the third straight season with a 5-0 rout of Real Madrid on March 13, adding to their 25-0 Primera División record.

Putellas, the 2021 Ballon d’Or winner, leads Barcelona’s Champions League campaign with seven goals and two assists. Midfielder Jennifer Hermoso is next with four goals in five matches. Deploying a possession-minded playing style, Barcelona is one of the hardest clubs for opponents to break down.

That’s just what Real Madrid will try to do, however, in their Champions League duel. The feat, while a tall order, isn’t impossible. Real Madrid stunned Barcelona in the first leg of the quarterfinal last week when Olga Carmona put her side up 1-0 in the eighth minute, forcing the visitors to mount a second-half comeback behind a brace from Putellas.

“Of course, it’s very useful to start losing a match. We don’t like it, but it’s useful,” Giráldez siad of Barcelona’s come-from-behind win. “Mentally, we need to be ready to pull ourselves together, do things better, catch up.”

Expecting Madrid to come out pressing and attacking, Barcelona will look to maintain possession and dictate the game’s tempo from the opening whistle.

“We want more every time,” Barcelona midfielder Ingrid Syrstad Engen said. “In Barcelona, it’s not enough to win, it’s about how you play, and I think that’s in the roots of this team,”

Barcelona will advance to the Champions League semifinals if they can maintain or improve upon their 3-1 aggregate lead.

The historic game kicks off Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET, streaming for free in the United States on DAZN’s UEFA Women’s Champions League YouTube channel.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.