The ‘queen’ of Barcelona finally gets her moment to seal sweetest Women’s Champions League yet

Alexia Putellas celebrates with the Champions League trophy after Barcelona defeated Lyon in Bilbao  (Reuters)
Alexia Putellas celebrates with the Champions League trophy after Barcelona defeated Lyon in Bilbao (Reuters)

Alexia Putellas stood on the sidelines, watching, the captain’s armband already wrapped around her left arm. For almost two years, since rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament on the eve of the Euros, Putellas has spent too long doing just that: waiting, looking on, as others have shone in the spotlight. The clock in the San Mames had reached 90 minutes. Time was up.

Yet it was Putellas who arrived just at the right moment to settle this Women’s Champions League final, striking to earn Barcelona a famous first-ever victory over Lyon and a third European crown in four years. With it, Lyon’s reign may be over, an era passed. Barcelona defended their Champions League and they did it their way, a 2-0 victory over the record eight-time champions sealed by their own.

There could not have been two more popular goalscorers than Putellas and Aitana Bonmati, Barcelona’s two Ballon d’Or winners. As Putellas crashed a left-footed shot high into the net, it wasn’t just the stand behind the goal that erupted; the San Mames shook. It had done so before, as Bonmati set Barcelona on their way, but there were nerves as Lyon plotted a route back. For so long in the Women’s Champions League, Lyon were its inevitable force. Could they salvage something?

Not here, not tonight. Putellas had only been on the pitch for a matter of moments when she dangled a foot in the penalty area and broke up Lyon’s desperate late attack. But then, Putellas was sprinting away – top whipped around her head – the frustration of all those months watching on suddenly washed away. Putellas had started on the bench, just as she did last season, and in Spain’s World Cup final. This time, when she lifted the Champions League trophy, she could feel as if she had earned it.

Alexia Putellas celebrates scoring Barcelona’s second goal (Getty)
Alexia Putellas celebrates scoring Barcelona’s second goal (Getty)

“She’s the captain of the team, she’s the queen of Barcelona for a reason,” said Lucy Bronze, shortly after becoming the first English footballer to win five European Cups. “She’s had to work really hard to get back fit, and she’s shown today why she’s a back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner.”

It added to an iconic victory for Barcelona, on the pitch and in the stands. On the eve of the final, Bonmati had spoken of the importance of their fans as Barcelona stood a game away from a historic quadruple. The culers responded, turning Bilbao into an extension of Barcelona for the day.

And if this was a home final for Barcelona, it was settled by their stars. Putellas and Bonmati are not only the best in the world, but they are theirs, too. Bonmati, the player of the match, represented what was so vital for Barcelona here: the girl from Catalonia who grew up in La Masia and plays every game for the “12th player” in the stands.

Barcelona fans show their support inside San Mames (Getty)
Barcelona fans show their support inside San Mames (Getty)

How Barcelona needed them, too. Any other team in the world may have crumbled at what the Catalans managed, invading the San Mames and turning it into their own. Lyon faced it head-on with the assurance of eight-time champions. Barcelona lacked their usual fluency at times and were made to survive what Lyon threw at them. Until the end, this was not a performance they could enjoy but was instead another example of how Barcelona have learnt to battle through it.

And the occasion, fittingly, was lit up by Bonmati, whom Barcelona needed to be everywhere and on 63 minutes found herself in the right place at the right time. Bonmati understood it, she had played the final a step ahead of everyone else, her ability evident in each turn, tackle and burst forward. She saw the space before Lyon could cover, choosing her moment of when to make the diagonal run from right to left. Facing her, the Lyon defender Vanessa Gilles invited Bonmati onto her left foot. Bonmati obliged. The shot was crisp but it was the deflection that took it away from Christine Endler, agonisingly so.

Aitani Bonmati celebrates after scoring for Barcelona (Reuters)
Aitani Bonmati celebrates after scoring for Barcelona (Reuters)

Bonmati turned away, arms outstretched. Behind her, the Sam Mames rocked. The prediction that Barcelona would fill 80 per cent of the stadium was inaccurate; it was closer to 90 per cent, with reds and blues and yellows filling every level of every section apart from the pocket of white behind one goal. The screeching jeers and whistles had begun as Lyon’s goalkeepers emerged to begin their warm-ups; by the closing stages, after the explosion Bonmati provided, it had turned to nerves until Putellas finally settled it.

Lyon had not lost a final since 2013, winning six of their eight in that spell, two of which were against Barcelona. This was the rarest of defeats, the feeling of falling short on the biggest stage. Lyon could not find a way. Ada Hegerberg was thrown on by Sonia Bompastor but could not extend her remarkable record of scoring in Champions League finals. As Bompastor now prepares to depart, Lyon may have to reflect on the end of an era. For Barcelona, theirs is only just beginning.

The Women’s Champions League is available to watch live and free on DAZN