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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Suzanne Wrack at Parc des Princes

PSG’s Martens ends Manchester United’s Women’s Champions League dream

Lieke Martens races towards Tabitha Chawinga after scoring her second goal for PSG
Lieke Martens races towards her strike partner Tabitha Chawinga after scoring her second goal for PSG. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

Marc Skinner lambasted the format of the Champions League qualifying rounds and said there were teams going through that “weren’t good enough”, after his Manchester United side lost 3-1 to Paris Saint-Germain and missed out on a first appearance in the group stage.

“We deserve to be at this level, I’ve no doubt about that,” said Skinner after a second-leg defeat by PSG, in which they had a goal unjustly ruled out for a foul. “There are teams going through to this competition [group stage] that are not good enough. Our standard is better than that standard, and it’s crazy that we have to play PSG in this qualifying round, crazy. It needs to be something that’s addressed.”

United have coveted a spot in Europe’s elite club competition since they reformed in 2018. It took just five years to earn a place in the brutal Champions League qualifying stage, which is divided into two pathways; one for domestic league winners and one for runners-up and teams in third place. Only four teams qualify automatically: the defending champions and the winners of the three leagues with the highest Uefa coefficient.

With Barcelona winning the competition, they were joined by Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Lyon in the group stage. After finishing second in the WSL last season United entered the league pathway, and landed a tough tie against two-time finalists PSG.

“We want the best teams in the Champions League, not just a spread of some average teams,” said Skinner. “You saw how hard we had to work last year to get into a qualifying round? It’s crazy right? Look how far Arsenal went last year, look how far Chelsea went, and yet we’re still having to qualify? It doesn’t work. And if something doesn’t work, you should look at fixing it.”

If the 1-1 draw in the first leg of their qualifier against PSG at Leigh Sports Village had given them hope, the second in Paris offered a flavour of just how tough the job is once you qualify for Europe. United were far from embarrassed here, in fact they had enough chances to have merited a win and were denied a legitimate goal that would have reduced the deficit to one on 71 minutes. But their profligacy and lack of concentration proved costly.

United came from behind shortly after half-time, having conceded to Lieke Martens, in a Parc des Princes rocked by the bouncing PSG ultras that banked together beneath a “Collectif Ultras Paris” banner at one end. But the home team’s patience and Champions League experience gave them the edge over their challengers.

Leah Galton reacts after her header is ruled out
Leah Galton reacts after her header is ruled out for a foul on the PSG goalkeeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek. Photograph: David Davies/PA

It was a brilliant run from Geyse that carved United’s opening, the forward wriggling free of Sakina Karchaoui on the right before swinging in a cross for the arriving Lisa Naalsund to slot home.

They remained level for just 72 seconds though. The PSG players, furious with themselves for conceding, swept forward and 19 seconds after the restart Tabitha Chawinga beat Maya Le Tissier and squared the ball to Martens who fired in her second goal from close range.

United could have drawn level again but the outstretched hand of Katarzyna Kiedrzynek maintained the home side’s slender lead, denying Hannah Blundell after she hit Leah Galton’s cut-back first time.

PSG turned the screw not long after, Sandy Baltimore beating Blundell before lifting the ball over Mary Earps and into the far end of the net from the tightest of angles. But United could be rightly aggrieved when Galton beat Kiedrzynek to a ball over the top and headed into the net, only for the referee, Ivana Projkovska, to rule it out for a nonexistent foul.

Chelsea will be the only English side in Friday's draw, which takes place at 1pm CET (12pm BST). As WSL champions, Emma Hayes' side join Barcelona, Lyon and Bayern Munich in Pot 1. PSG and Real Madrid are the big names in Pot 2, while Benfica, Roma, Ajax and Paris FC – who eliminated Arsenal and Wolfsburg to reach the group stages – look to be the teams to avoid in the lower two pots. Guardian sport

Pot 1: Barcelona, Lyon, Bayern Munich, Chelsea.
Pot 2: PSG, Slavia Prague, Real Madrid, Rosengård.
Pot 3: St Pölten, Benfica, Häcken, Roma.
Pot 4: Ajax, Paris FC, Eintracht Frankfurt, Brann.

“I’ll try to refrain from words that will get me into trouble but that’s not good enough at this level,” said Skinner. “That is a goal. Leah Galton has got the ball, doesn’t have contact with the goalkeeper and it’s given a foul against the goalkeeper. Ridiculous. If you’re going to draw teams against each other like PSG and Manchester United, I think you should have VAR.”

United will have to try to go again next year, providing they can upset the order in an increasingly tough Women’s Super League once more.

Meanwhile PSG were joined in the group stage by their neighbours Paris FC, whose stunning 2-0 win in Wolfsburg earned them a 5-3 aggregate triumph against last year’s runners-up. Glasgow City lost 2-0 at Brann to exit the competition 6-0 on aggregate.

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