By Tom Bennett at Vanni Sanna Stadium
Arsenal Ladies put in an accomplished performance at Vanni Sanna Stadium on Wednesday afternoon to beat ASD Torres 1-0 and secure a place in the last four of the Women’s Champions League for the third successive season.
While the game was closely contested, an early strike from Niamh Fahey, which gave the Gunners a crucial away goal and a 4-1 aggregate lead, meant the end result was rarely in doubt.
And although ASD Torres threatened going forward, stand-out performances from Ciara Grant and Gilly Flaherty at the back, and Emma Byrne in goal denied the home side the goals they needed to get back into the tie.
A twice-cancelled FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest meant this was only the Ladies' second match of the season. Shelley Kerr’s side showed no signs of rustiness though and raced into the lead after just four minutes, when Ellen White flicked on a Rachel Yankey corner for Fahey to apply the final touch on the goalline.
It was credit to Torres that this goal did not kill the tie. The Italians rallied quickly and Byrne had to be alert to first smother a low through ball, and then gather a long-distance strike from Giorgia Motta.
More chances were to follow for the home side in the first half, but a series of outstanding interventions from Grant and Flaherty preserved the Gunners' lead.
Arsenal did not sit back and had chances to extend their advantage too. A mazy run from Gemma Davison down the right-hand side saw the winger claim for a penalty when she was bundled to the floor in the Italians’ area, though the referee waved play on.
Then Steph Houghton, skippering the team in the absence of the injured Kelly Smith, came close to capitalising on a fumble from Torres goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann after 30 minutes, but fired her shot over the bar.
The second period was dominated by Torres, as they looked to find a way back into the tie in front of a vocal home crowd.
A slight wobble aside, when Arsenal struggled to deal with a Torres corner bobbling loose in the six-yard box moments after the restart, Kerr’s side weathered the pressure admirably.
They held on to possession and tried to play when they had the ball, and pressured right through the side when they didn’t.
The midfield worked tirelessly, chasing down every loose ball, and the back four snuffed out most of what Torres could throw at them.
When the Italians did break though, they found Byrne a formidable last line of defence. The Ireland No 1 twice blocked from close range, saved well low to her right, and was a commanding presence throughout.
Late on, a great run from Jordan Nobbs down the right could have doubled Arsenal’s lead, but for a superb reflex stop from Thalmann.
A 2-0 scoreline would have flattered the Ladies on the day, although over the two legs, there can be little doubt that they warrant their place in the last four.
Referee: Teodora Albon (ROU)
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