Cardiff Met Women head to Slovenia this week with a host of new signings for what will be their sixth UEFA Women's Champions League campaign.
Director of Football Dr Kerry Harris and her side are yet to make it through the qualification group stages of the competition. However, the Archers have shown consistent progress in terms of results and performances as they become more experienced at this level, and have made their intentions clear this time around with a number of impressive new arrivals at Cyncoed Campus.
“It's huge step-up,” explained Harris at the club's recent media day. “It's a very different style of play and it's much more physical than what it is in the domestic game. The girls have had to up their game in terms of their preparation and their training.
“We've had a taste of the Champions League before, and over the last couple of years we've been more and more competitive. The aspirations are to get out of the group, because we want to be the first, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be the first.”
Standing between Cardiff Met Women and a place in the knock-out stages of the UWCL in Group 3 are FC Nike of Georgia, Scottish outfit Hibernian Ladies and ŽNK Pomurje of the host nation Slovenia. Only the group winners progress to the last 32 of the competition, where the likes of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, VfL Wolfsburg and holders Lyon await.
Since securing their sixth Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League title in the last eight years back in March, Cardiff Met Women have strengthened their squad with the signings of Alexis Reinks, Micaela Milavec, Amy Long, Jodie Passmore, Emily Allen and Sophie Hancocks.
Under the leadership of captain Tija Richardson, the side completed the domestic treble last season, and remained undefeated throughout the course of the entire campaign. In addition, Madison Schupbach collected the WPWL top goalscorer and Player of the Year awards at the annual presentation evening.
But while the side dominate on the domestic front, the challenge of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the UWCL is a very different challenge. Here's a closer look at they opponents that Cardiff Met Women will need to get the better of in Slovenia if they are to finally progress on the European stage.
ŽNK Pomurje (Slovenia)
The opening match for Cardiff Met Women in Group 3 takes place against ŽNK Pomurje at Fazanerija, Murska Sobota on Wednesday, 7 August. Based in the Slovenian town of Beltinci, the club were founded in 1999, are the dominant club in the Slovenian women's game.
Like Cardiff Met Women, ŽNK Pomurje completed the domestic treble last season, but this will be their first UWCL match since 2016/17 when they last qualified for the competition. The only time the club made it out of their qualifying group was in 2014/15, but they were eliminated in the Round of 32 by Italian side Torres, losing 7-3 on aggregate.
Hibernian Ladies (Scotland)
The two sides will meet at Sportni Park, Beltinci on Saturday, 10 August, in what should be a competitive tie between the two British clubs. Grant Scott's side finished second in the Scottish Women's Premier League table to qualify for the UWCL, and also lifted the League Cup. Abi Harrison has been a key part of their success in recent years with two golden boot awards, but the striker made the switch to Bristol City in January.
The club qualified directly for the UWCL Round of 32 in 2016/17, but were drawn against German giants Bayern Munich and suffered a 10-1 aggregate defeat. They returned to the qualifying round the following season and were drawn against Swansea City, but despite claiming a comfortable 5-0 victory, it proved to be their only win and they failed to qualify from the group. Like Cardiff Met, this will also be their sixth European campaign.
FC Nike (Georgia)
Cardiff Met return to Fazanerija in Murska Sobota for their third and final match on Tuesday, 13 August when they take on FC Nike. The Georgian outfit are the lesser known of their three opponents, but they will know from experience that no opposition can be treated lightly when it comes to competing in the UWCL. The current Georgian Women's Premier League champions are based in the capital of Tbilisi and are looking to make history by becoming the first women's team from the country to reach the knock-out stages.
“The significance of the Champions League is clear for anyone familiar with football,” explained Player Manager Nino Pasikashvili in an interview with the Georgian Football Federation. “This competition is the source of dreams for each player. This is a significant event for Nike as the club marks the first anniversary of its founding, and we would like to celebrate it with a positive story at European level.”
UEFA Women's Champions League – Qualifying Group 3 – Slovenia
7 August 2019
Hibernian v FC Nike – Sportni Park, Beltinci
Cardiff Met v Pomurje - Fazanerija, Murska Sobota
10 August 2019
Hibernian v Cardiff Met - Sportni Park, Beltinci
Pomurje v FC Nike - Sportni Park, Beltinci
13 August 2019
FC Nike v Cardiff Met - Fazanerija, Murska Sobota
Pomurje v Hibernian - Sportni Park, Beltinci