(Arsenal Ladies win 6-4 on aggregate)
By Tom Bennett at the Karl-Liebknecht Stadium
A Kelly Smith hat-trick saw Arsenal beat Potsdam 4-3 in an extraordinary game on Wednesday night and progress to the quarter-finals of the Women's Champions League.
The match, in which the Gunners took a 2-0 lead, was all square at 3-3 just after the hour mark, as a frenetic start to the second half produced four goals in 12 minutes, but eventually turned Arsenal’s way in the 81st minute when substitute Ellen White snatched the visitors' fourth.
Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Meadow Park last week meant the tie was nominally at least always in their hands, but following a flurry of Potsdam goals after the break it didn’t always feel that way. And it needed an inspired three-goal haul from Smith to ensure Arsenal’s safe passage to the next round.
Laura Harvey had said before the match that her players would take the game to Potsdam, and not seek simply to protect their first-leg lead. She was true to her word, fielding effectively five attackers in Smith, Gemma Davison, Kim Little, Rachel Yankey and Jordan Nobbs.
And Arsenal made an electric start to the match, with that quintet combining to bamboozle their hosts in the early moments. By the time Smith secured the Gunners a much-deserved lead on 27 minutes, when she converted a low centre from Davison, the visitors could already have had three or four.
Smith’s second, an almost carbon copy of her first - save for the fact that it was Alex Scott who provided the cross - again felt no more than an adventurous Arsenal warranted.
The Gunners' 2-0 lead – 4-1 on aggregate - could well have ended the match as a meaningful contest but Bernd Shroder’s side have won the Frauen Bundesliga four years on the trot, and their class told when they emerged for the second half.
Within two minutes of the restart Potsdam's new-found purpose had paid dividends as Antonia Goransson struck from close range to make it 2-1.
This marked the start of a farcical 10-minute spell, in which Potsdam drew level via Keelin Winters before Smith re-established Arsenal’s advantage with a coolly taken third just before the hour. Potsdam responded immediately with Goransson bundling in a second to make it 3-3.
The 3,260 strong home crowd erupted, sensing the tie was turning their way at last, and the drummers that followed Potsdam to Boreham Wood FC for the first leg created an almighty din inside the Karl-Liebknecht Stadium.
Harvey brought Ciara Grant on in place of Davison in an attempt to re-establish some order and Arsenal looked immediately more solid.
They sprang forward in the 71st minute only for White to clatter the woodwork. But the England striker, on to replace the injured Rachel Yankey, soon went one better, when Smith turned provider to put White clean through on goal. She finished with the confidence of a player who now has three goals in her last four games.
The goal left Potsdam needing three in the final 10 minutes – even in the context of this match an insurmountable task – and Harvey’s team got over the line after a contest that acted as a brilliant advert for the women’s game.
The quarter-finals of the Champions League is nothing new for Harvey's side, but this tie marked a first defeat of German opposition in the Club’s 25-year history.
Confirmation, if it were needed, that Arsenal Ladies can compete with the finest the women’s game has to offer.
Referee: Carina Vitulano (ITA)
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