Report by Graham Semple
Glasgow City’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time are still very much alive after a 2-1 away defeat to FC Zurich of Switzerland.
Fabienne Humm gave the home side an early lead before Lee Alexander made an outstanding penalty save to deny Marina Keller just before half-time. Fiona Brown lashed home an unstoppable equaliser after 52 minutes, but Julia Stierli headed home Zurich’s winner from close range shortly afterwards. City full-back, Nicky Docherty, was sent off for a second bookable offence with fourteen minutes remaining in an incident-filled match at the Stadion Letzigrund.
In the early stages, City enjoyed plenty of possession but despite good ball retention, their incisive play often broke down in the final third. Brown had the first opportunity of the match after eight minutes but from just inside the box she fired over.
City’s desire to dominate possession and force their opponents to defend looked to be counter-productive as the first half progressed. The high line adopted by the Scottish champions was frequently exposed by the long ball over the top and it appeared to be only a matter of time before the Swiss side capitalised. With eleven minutes gone, Barla Deplazes evaded the City offside trap and raced in on goal, and it was left to Alexander to make an excellent double save to keep the scoresheet blank. Zurich were not to be denied though and seconds later they grabbed the lead. A direct pass released Humm, and she fired home with aplomb: 1-0 to the home side.
Zurich posed a threat every time they advanced and Alexander was forced into another excellent stop after 19 minutes. Gradually, City began to regain a presence in the match and create the odd chance and it was Morgan Marlborough who came closest to restoring parity. A Brown corner was parried by the Zurich goalkeeper into the path of the American forward but she leaned back and missed the target.
As the first-half appeared to be petering out, Zurich burst back into life. Captain, Humm, was sent clear down the City right and was upended in the box by Julie Nelson. The referee pointed to the spot but Alexander came to the rescue when she produced a superb save to deny Marina Keller and ensure no further damage was done to the scoreline.
City introduced Abbi Grant for Julie Nelson at the beginning of the second-half as they looked to hit back. With 52 minutes gone, Brown took centre stage with a superb individual goal. The 19 year old gathered the ball on the left, cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable right-foot shot that flew in off the far post past the helpless Seraina Friedli.
Zurich appeared to be unfazed however and seven minutes later they found themselves in front once again. A well-rehearsed in-swinging free-kick from Riana Fischer was headed into the net by Stierli with Alexander left stranded.
In the remaining half-hour, clear chances were scarce for both sides but City were dealt a cruel blow after 76 minutes when Docherty was sent off for a second bookable offence. The full-back can have little complaint about the first card but the second yellow that saw her dismissed was harsh and she will now miss the return leg.
The rampaging Brown, who slotted in at left-back to replace the absent Docherty, continued to venture forward at every opportunity, but she picked up an injury and was stretchered off with a few minutes remaining.
The Glasgow side, who played the last fifteen minutes with ten players, remained organised and composed and comfortably saw the game out.
This was a resilient display from City. They had to survive some trying moments but they held firm and their goalkeeper delivered once again on the biggest stage. The critical away goal from the excellent Brown means that the tie is on a knife-edge ahead of what promises to be a mouth-watering second leg on Wednesday at the Excelsior Stadium in Airdrie.
Zürich: Friedli, Beutler (Selimi, 87), Keller, Stierli, Stapelfeldt, Fischer, Zehnder, Humm(C), Gensetter (Mauron, 77), Deplazes, Terchoun (Müller, 68)
Subs: Studer (GK), Remund, Aloi, Hashan
Glasgow City: Alexander, McSorley, Docherty, Black(C), Nelson (Grant, 46), Love, O’Sullivan (84), Lappin, McCulloch, Brown (Boyce, 90+1), Marlborough
Subs Not Used: Deiter, Whyte, McMurchie