By Tom Bennett in Madrid
Arsenal Ladies lost 2-0 at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid on Thursday night in the first leg of their Women's Champions League Round of 16 tie.
The Gunners experienced a tough night at the hands of the Superliga champions, but with a second leg at their Boreham Wood home to come, they leave Spain still very much in the tie.
Without a competitive game since their Round of 32 match on October 14, the Ladies were always in for a stern test at the Teresa Rivero Stadium. But the challenge increased dramatically just after kick-off when Natalia fired the home side in front with a spectacular 35-yard strike.
Seconds in, Emma Byrne had been forced to the edge of her box to clear. The ball then ricocheted around the middle of the park before falling to the Rayo skipper who chipped over the still retreating Byrne for 1-0.
Arsenal Ladies rallied, and were soon posing a threat of their own. Just before the quarter-hour mark, Ellen White jinked into the box, forcing a corner and giving the Gunners their first real sight of goal.
Midway through the first half, it was nearly 1-1. Kim Little latched onto a bobbling ball in the box and struck a thunderous shot that had Alicia well beaten, but cannoned back off the bar.
Soon after, White forced the Rayo keeper into a sharp stop with her legs.
Arsenal were certainly finding their feet and, just before the break, the visitors came close to levelling things. Steph Houghton broke down the right and fizzed a low ball across Alicia’s goal, but no one was on hand to convert.
They started the second half as they finished the first,and Little went close almost immediately, hitting a low shot just past the post.
A minute later it was Rayo’s turn to advance on goal. Adriana broke through down the right side, but Byrne did enough to put the striker off, and she looped her shot over the bar.
The game descended into a tight and fractured affair with Rayo’s defence frustrating the Gunners’ attempts to find an equaliser. Gemma Davison, Rachel Yankey and Little all probed, but none were able to find a way through.
With 16 minutes to go, Arsenal found themselves a second goal down when Sonia picked the ball up on the edge of the box, swivelled and lashed it low into the left corner of Byrne’s net.
Arsenal came again. Katie Chapman would have pulled one back with a blistering strike from distance had not the Rayo keeper leaped to her left and clawed the ball out for a corner.
Gilly Flaherty also went close seconds later, but pulled her shot just wide of the far post.
In a frantic last few moments Arsenal were unable to find a breakthrough, and could have gone three down when Rayo hit the bar from range.
That concluded a disappointing night for the Ladies, but they will know Rayo’s two-goal lead is far from insurmountable.
The result certainly sets things up for a very interesting return leg at Boreham Wood next week.
Cheer on Arsenal Ladies when they face Rayo Vallecano in the second leg on Thursday, November 11. Click here for ticket news
Referee: Silvia Tea Spinelli (ITA)
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