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Women's Football News
Cardiff City Women manager Mike Hayward is relishing the chance to lead his side into the UEFA Women's Champions League for the first time this week.
The Welsh Premier Women's League Champions travel to Bosnia to play group hosts WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo, FC NSA Sofia of Bulgaria and Turkish title winners Konak Belediyespor and Mike told Women's Soccer Scene that it will be a great experience for his players.
"We're extremely excited," he said. "We've got a very good group of players who need to be further tested and it's a great opportunity for them to play other Championship winning teams in a country they've never played in before.
"It's a chance for the girls to gain some experience and hopefully some success at the same time."
City's first venture into Europe comes just two years following their formation, having won their national title at the first attempt. "We're lucky enough to have the backing of an extremely successful football club and lucky that we are in a large catchment area in Wales," says Mike. "We are extra blessed to have so many talented girls come to our club and worked hard to develop themselves.
"Two years ago they were just coming out of Under-16s football and in two years we've got a league title and representing Wales in the Champions League. I'm very proud of their achievements so far but we don't rest on our laurels, we want to go in a become the most successful Welsh club in Europe - we want to qualify and get to the final 32."
City clinched the league title on the last day of last season, on goal difference after beating Wrexham 5-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium in their final match. "It was a fantastic day credit goes to Wrexham on the day for giving us a really tough game and putting the league on a pedestal as it highlighted the quality [in it]," recalled Mike, "also kudos to Cardiff Met who pushed us all the way. Every time we were looking at our results, they also had a great result and that kept us honest all the way through to the end of the season and it was a really great achievement to lift the trophy on our own pitch at Cardiff City Stadium."
Now City can turn their attention to Champions League football for the first time and Mike has been receiving a helping hand from their national manager. "I've spoken to Jarmo Matikainen about Sarajevo as he has seen them play a few times and just looking through their results, Cardiff Met played them last year and narrowly lost 1-0. They're the top seeds in that group and we're playing them first so all our focus is on that game and getting a result there and see what we can do off the back of the first result.
"I think with all the publicity around the club on the men's side it would be great to show that the women are doing the same thing. We won the league, the first team won the league and with the backdrop of them going up to the Premier League, if we can add this achievement it would show that Cardiff City Football Club is moving forward as a whole.
"We're all really looking forward to it," added vice captain Lucy Thomas. "In the season just gone, we put in so much hard work knowing this was on offer and now that it's finally here, I just can't wait to get out there."
Lauren Hancock, who was recently capped by Wales at senior level, enthused: "I don't know too much about [the teams] but I know they will be very tough games. The Bosnian team is top seed and they will be our very first game and hopefully we'll be going in with the right mindset."
Midfielder Shanelle Edwards perhaps summed up the mood of the squad by saying: "Our aim going out there is to qualify - we're not going there just to take part, we're going there to win."
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