Canadians on show in Women’s Champions League


Sophie Schmidt, right, in action for Canada. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

The Round of 16 for the 2015-2016 UEFA Women’s Champions League is officially set, with the first leg scheduled for Nov. 11-12 and the second on Nov. 18-19.

Three Canadians remain in the tournament: midfielder Sophie Schmidt, forward Josee Belanger and defender Marie-Eve Nault.

Sportsnet has a closer look at the Round of 16 matchups:

LSK Kvinner FK vs. 1. FFC Frankfurt
As one of two seeded German teams, Frankfurt is looking to capture a fifth Champions League title and second straight. Frankfurt boasts tremendous depth from the goalkeeper out, and poses a great threat versus any opponent given their balanced scoring. LSK Kvinner coach Monica Knudsen understands it won’t be an easy task versus the defending champs, but said, “We will do our best and give them a hard fight. Anything is possible in football.” This is the furthest the Norwegian club has advanced in the tournament.

Players to watch: Canada’s Sophie Schmidt is currently on the road to recovery after suffering a rib injury, but will be ready for the first leg versus LSK Kvinner in Norway. Internationals Yuki Ogimi (Japan) and Ana-Maria Crnogorčević (Switzerland) lead the way for Frankfurt when it comes to prolific strikers. Backstopping LSK Kvinner is veteran goalkeeper Gudbjörg Gunnarsdóttir. The 30-year-old has plenty of international experience, suiting up for Iceland over 30 times since her debut in 2004.

KIF Örebro DFF vs. Paris Saint-Germain
It was a tough draw for Örebro and Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault. While the Swedish side has had a strong showing thus far in Champions League play, it won’t be an easy task to get past PSG. In last season’s tournament, PSG made it all the way to the final where they lost to Frankfurt.

Players to watch: Striker Sanna Talonen leads to way for Örebro when it comes to scoring in the Champions League. Also, for your fill of Canadian content, keep an eye on Nault, who is a key member of the team’s defence. Brazilian forward Cristiane has already netted five goals in just two Champions League matches for PSG. American Lindsey Horan has also been a key contributor for the French side since she joined them in 2012.

FC Twente vs. FC Barcelona
Twente became the first team to beat a German side in the Round of 32 when they pulled off a massive upset by eliminating Bayern München. They’re also the only qualifying round winners to advance to this stage. The Dutch club will have their hands full with Barcelona, who are just two years removed from a quarterfinal appearance.

Players to watch: Having Marieke Ubachs in net gives Twente plenty of confidence. Over five appearances, which includes the qualifying and tournament stages, the Dutch ‘keeper has let in just three goals. Midfielder Jill Roord scored seven times for Twente during qualification and netted a key goal last round versus heavy favourites Bayern. Barcelona’s top scorer thus far is Jennifer Hermoso, with two goals in two appearances.

Club Atlético de Madrid vs. Olympique Lyonnais
Will this be the year Lyon hoists another trophy? The French club advanced to the final consecutively from 2010-2013, and raised the trophy twice, but have lost in the Round of 16 the past two years. For Atlético, it’ll be about making the most out of a new situation, since it’s their debut in the tournament.

Players to watch: Silvia Meseguer is a key cog in Atlético’s midfield. Given her experience at the club and international levels, she provides leadership and dependable play. While she has yet to score in the tournament, long-time Lyon forward Lotta Schelin is always a threat. The 31-year-old has suited up in over 150 matches for Sweden and it’s only a matter of time before she finds the back of the net for her pro club. Midfielder Eugénie Le Sommer was a standout at the recent Women’s World Cup for France and you can expect much of the same versus Atlético.

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Chelsea LFC vs. VfL Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg is the other seeded German club at the tournament and they’re looking to make a deep run after losing in the semifinals to PSG lasts season. They’re not far removed from winning the title in 2013-14. Although unseeded, Chelsea comes into the Round of 16 as English FA Women’s Cup winners. This is their first time in the Champions League and would surely love to play the role of spoiler.

Players to watch: Nilla Fischer leads an impressive back line for Wolfsburg, which also features German international Babett Peter, Stephanie Bunte and Verena Faisst. They’re also strong in the midfield with Lena Goessling, Julia Simic, and Swiss star Lara Dickenmann. For Chelsea, as a soccer fan, it’s a pleasure watching striker Eniola Aluko, a player who provided a massive spark for England at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Ji So-yun from South Korea is both effective and dependable in Chelsea’s midfield. She scored in the club’s 4-0 victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup Final.

ACF Brescia Femminile vs. Fortuna Hjørring
Danish side Fortuna will go into their leg versus Brescia as favourites given they’ve never lost to an Italian club in this competition. It’s been over 10 years since Fortuna was a Champions League finalist and with this favourable draw, there’s a real chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Players to watch: Nadia Nadim is Fortuna’s greatest scoring threat. She’s netted three goals in two matches. They also get offensive support from their back line with defenders Florentina Olar and Line Jensen. For Brescia, Barbara Bonansea played the role of hero during their Round of 32 series, scoring the winner versus Liverpool.

SK Slavia Praha vs. WFC Zvezda 2005
Praha is back in the tournament after a decade-long absence. The team from the Czech Republic includes a roster of experienced players, with midfielders Andrea Budošová and Blanka Pěničková, both 35, who experienced Champions League action way back in 2003. Zvezda, meanwhile, is looking for another appearance in the final. The Russian club lost to FCR 2001 Duisburg in 2009, when this tournament was called the UEFA Women’s Cup Finals and the championship was played over a two-game leg.

Players to watch: 19-year-old Barbora Votíková is expected to start in goal for Praha. Striker Petra Divišová has scored twice in two matches. For Zvezda, midfielder Daryna Apanaschenko and forward Olesya Kurochkina lead the way in finding the back of the net with five goals between them in a duo of appearances. Côte d’Ivoire’s José Nahi could be a wild card for the Russian club given her experience on the international stage.

Verona CF vs. FC Rosengård
Revenge will be on the mind of the Italians, who fell to Rosengård during the tournament’s 2012-13 Round of 16. Rosengård will come into the opening leg with plenty of momentum after capturing the Swedish league title for the fourth time in five years and easily disposing of Finland’s PK-35 during the Round of 32, winning 9-0 on aggregate.

Players to watch: Canada’s Josee Belanger has made an impact in her Champions League debut. She leads Rosengård in scoring after netting a hat trick versus PK-35. Longtime Brazilian star Marta solidifies Rosengård’s impressive forward corps and is always a threat on the pitch. Melania Gabbiadini leads the way for Verona when it comes to scoring, while Stéphanie Öhrström provides stability in net for the Italians.

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