Pernille Harder is encouraged by the increasingly competitive nature of the Women's Champions League after Chelsea reached the final last season in a campaign where Lyon's run of titles was ended.

Lyon had been European champions in five successive seasons heading into 2020-21, pipping Harder's Wolfsburg in 2018 and 2020.

The Denmark superstar was named UEFA Women's Player of the Year on both occasions and secured a world-record move to Chelsea, where she again made the final.

The Blues came up short, but there was a new name on the trophy as Barcelona claimed their first title after Lyon were knocked out in the last eight.

Harder, speaking on behalf of Heineken, told Stats Perform: "Chelsea, as a team, we want to be one of the big teams in the world, and I think we still are. I think we can develop more from last year.

"Last year, we reached the final, so that's good, and we have the potential to be even better.

"But I also think the competition is really high. Now, there are so many good teams in Europe, so it will also be even more difficult to reach the final and to win the Champions League.

"I think it's good that it's not only one team that is just dominating the women's football.

"Lyon has been doing that for so many years, but I think now more teams are getting into the competition.

"Obviously, Lyon is still one of the big teams who will compete about the title, but it's really good that it has developed in this way with more teams being contenders for winning the title."

Team success is the priority for Harder, despite her individual recognition following Wolfsburg's final runs.

"The individual [awards] wasn't a goal for me – it was just the outcome," she said. "But the ultimate goals are to develop and to develop as a team but also to win titles.

"If that will make me win another individual award, that's just maybe a result on a good season. But that's not the main goal for me."

Heineken is a new sponsor for the Women's Champions League and Women's European Championship, which Harder sees as evidence of the sport's development.

"It's great that Heineken has chosen to go into women's football, to the Women's Champions League and the [Women's European] Championship that's coming in the next years," she said.

"It just shows the way women's football has developed, that a big brand like Heineken wants to go in and help to develop women's football even more.

"So, obviously, me as a football player, a women's football player, I'm really happy and pleased about that."
 

Watch Heineken's latest announcement video sharing three more reasons to cheer, having extended its already expansive footprint in motorsport and football with three exciting new partnerships – UEFA Women's Champions League, UEFA Women's European Championship and W Series.

Jorginho and Roberto Mancini could cap a golden year for Italy by landing UEFA honours after both were shortlisted for top awards on Thursday, though Manchester City duo Kevin De Bruyne and Pep Guardiola could spoil the Azzurri's party.

Azzurri midfielder Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and followed that by helping his country to Euro 2020 glory, under the leadership of coach Mancini.

Jorginho, 29, is joined on the three-man shortlist for UEFA Men's Player of the Year by Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante, a standout in the Champions League final, and by City playmaker De Bruyne.

Kante played for France at Euro 2020 and De Bruyne featured for Belgium, but neither side made the progress many anticipated, with Les Bleus eliminated in the last 16 and the Red Devils bowing out to Italy in the quarter-finals.

The three players received the most votes from a panel consisting of the 24 head coaches at Euro 2020, the 80 coaches from the Champions League and Europa League group stages, and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

The Men's Coach of the Year shortlist consists of the two coaches from the Champions League final, Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel and City's Guardiola, plus Italy boss Mancini.

It means there is no place for Gareth Southgate, who guided England to their first major men's final since the 1966 World Cup. He finished seventh in voting, UEFA announced, behind Villarreal's Europa League winning boss Unai Emery, Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone and former Inter coach Antonio Conte.

Like Guardiola, both Simeone and Conte led their club sides to domestic league title success.

The winner of each award will be announced at UEFA's Champions League group stage draw on August 26 in Istanbul.

Barcelona had a clean sweep of the players shortlisted for the Women's Player of the Year prize, following their Spanish league and cup and Champions League treble.

The Spanish duo of Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas were joined on the list by Dutch club-mate Lieke Martens.

UEFA's women's awards stem from votes from each of the coaches in the Champions League last 16 and the leading 12 coaches according to UEFA's national team rankings, plus a pool of 20 journalists.

Former Barcelona boss Lluis Cortes is joined on that list by Chelsea's Emma Hayes and Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.

Istanbul will finally get to stage the Champions League final in 2023, UEFA has announced.

The Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Turkey was originally due to put on Europe's biggest club match in 2020, only for the coronavirus pandemic to mean the closing stages of the tournament were shifted to Lisbon.

The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final were all played in Portugal's capital, with Istanbul awarded the 2021 final instead.

However, that too was taken away when UEFA moved the match between Chelsea and Manchester City to Porto, this time because Turkey was on the United Kingdom's travel red list amid the continuing COVID-19 health crisis.

Supporters of the two English clubs would have been unable to make the trip to Istanbul, but restrictions on travel to Portugal were less stringent.

Now UEFA's executive committee has awarded the 2023 final to Istanbul, in the hope it will get to stage the game in two years' time. Munich was due to host the game but will instead stage the 2025 final.

UEFA said in a statement: "Following the relocation of the 2021 UEFA Champions League final from Istanbul to Porto, it was decided to award the staging of the 2023 UEFA Champions League final to the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.

"Furthermore, the European club season kick-off event, which includes the draws for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League will take place in Istanbul at the end of August both for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons."

UEFA said that Wembley's position as host venue for the 2024 final was unaffected.

It also said it had reached "a settlement agreement" with Dublin and Bilbao after both cities were unable to stage Euro 2020 matches, as had been the original plan.

They could not meet UEFA's requirements on spectator numbers, owing to the COVID-19 situation, but the governing body said it recognised "the efforts and financial investment put by the two cities in preparing for the tournament".

It said Dublin would now host the 2024 Europa League final and Bilbao would stage both the 2025 Europa League final and the 2024 Women's Champions League final.

UEFA has announced the away goals rule will no longer be used in any of the organisation's club competitions for the 2021-22 season.

The regulation was first introduced in 1965 to decide the outcome of a two-legged knockout tie in cases where the teams were level on aggregate.

However, statistical data has shown a reduction in the gap between home and away wins, according to data released by the governing body on Wednesday, as well as the average number of goals scored at home and on the road.

Following the recommendation of both its club competitions committee and women's football committee, UEFA has abolished the ruling for the upcoming campaign, with the change made ahead of the start of the qualifying phases.

"The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of UEFA competitions since it was introduced in 1965," UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in a statement.

"However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years. Although there was no unanimity of views, many coaches, fans and other football stakeholders have questioned its fairness and have expressed a preference for the rule to be abolished.

"The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original purpose as, in fact, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.

"There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored."

Analysing data stretching back to the mid-1970s, UEFA revealed how the success rate for teams at home in men's competitions had dropped from 61 to 47 per cent, while away wins had risen from just 19 per cent up to 30 per cent.

"It is fair to say that home advantage is nowadays no longer as significant as it once was," Ceferin said.

"Taking into consideration the consistency across Europe in terms of styles of play, and many different factors which have led to a decline in home advantage, the UEFA executive committee has taken the correct decision in adopting the view that it is no longer appropriate for an away goal to carry more weight than one scored at home."

The decision means away goals will no longer be a factor to consider in the Champions League, Europa League and the new Europa Conference League, as well as the Women's Champions League.

Barcelona won the Women's Champions League for the first time as a freak early own goal helped them to a 4-0 win over Chelsea.

Melanie Leupolz inadvertently put the ball past her own goalkeeper after just 35 seconds, and a penalty from Alexia Putellas followed by strikes from Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Graham Hansen had Barcelona four goals clear before half-time.

English champions Chelsea were expected to pose a major threat to the Barcelona goal, but key forwards Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr had an off night in Gothenburg.

Barcelona were able to cruise through the second half and become Spain's first winners of the competition, putting a 4-1 defeat to Lyon in the 2019 final firmly behind them.

On that previous occasion, Barcelona trailed 4-0 after 30 minutes, but this time it was Chelsea who suffered from the early onslaught against impressive Spanish league champions.

Lieke Martens hit the bar with a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area after just 20 seconds, and as Chelsea scrambled to clear, Kirby booted the ball against the shin of team-mate Leupolz, resulting in it looping over goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger and into the top left corner.

Barcelona boss Lluis Cortes watched his team attack with verve and great movement, winning a penalty when Leupolz clipped Jennifer Hermoso. Putellas converted and Barcelona were two goals clear after 14 minutes.

Putellas then picked a pass that released Bonmati to toe in the third, and it was 4-0 after 36 minutes when Graham Hansen buried a close-range chance after Martens dashed down the left and away from Niamh Charles before crossing low across goal.

While Barcelona celebrated, their victory removed the possibility of Chelsea winning both the men's and women's Champions League titles in the same season.

After Emma Hayes' team fell short, Chelsea will hope Thomas Tuchel's men avoid such a sour experience in the men's final on May 29 when they face Manchester City.

Hayes told BT Sport: "Today was difficult because the game was over before it began. That's what is so difficult to reflect on. The damage was done.

"I'm proud of the second-half performance. Congratulations to Barcelona. They're worthy winners and deserving of their title.

"They were favourites for a reason and you have to stay in the game against this team.

"The early goal and the manner in which we conceded it, and the penalty. Once you get a 2-0 lead in these games ... I felt everything fell for them. They got the rub of the green. They made that happen. They're a wonderful team and deserving winners."

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are three of the superstars who have been voted into UEFA's Men's Team of the Year by fans, with Virgil van Dijk also included despite missing a chunk of 2020 through injury.

Fans had from November 30 to January 6 to cast their votes, and a host of predictable names made the cut, though Champions League winners Bayern Munich dominate.

There are five players from Bayern's treble-winning 2019-20 in the team, including Robert Lewandowski – winner of The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year award – and Thiago Alcantara, who has since joined Liverpool.

The other Reds player in the side is Van Dijk even though the Dutch centre-back has only played five Premier League games this season due to a serious knee injury.

However, earlier in the year he inspired Liverpool to their first league title since 1990.

Ronaldo was named in the side for a 15th time after helping Juventus to another Scudetto.

Messi earned his 12th inclusion despite failing to help Barcelona to LaLiga success in what was a largely difficult year for the Blaugrana and their captain.

UEFA confirmed the final selection for the women's team as well, with six players from Lyon's Women's Champions League-winning squad in the side.

 

Men's Team of the Year:

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany); Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich and Germany), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool and Netherlands), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich and Canada); Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich/Liverpool and Spain), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium); Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus and Portugal), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil).

Women's Team of the Year:

Sarah Bouhaddi (Lyon and France); Lucy Bronze (Lyon/Manchester City and England), Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon and Canada), Wendie Renard (Lyon and France), Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea and Sweden); Kheira Hamraoui (Barcelona and France), Amandine Henry (Lyon and France), Delphine Cascarino (Lyon and France), Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir (Wolfsburg/Lyon and Iceland); Danielle van de Donk (Arsenal and Netherlands), Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg/Chelsea and Denmark).

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