Report | AC PAOK 2 Swansea City Ladies 0
Swansea City Ladies fell to defeat against AC PAOK in the Women’s Champions League Group 2 Qualification semi-final with an Eva Vasiliki Vlassopoulos’ brace handing victory to the Greek side.
PAOK took the lead on the 16th minute after Nikoleta Kalesi had already passed up a number of big chances, but, while the Greek side continued to threaten, the Swans got to grips with the game after the first drinks break and turned it into a much more even contest from that point on.
Ellie Lake had Swansea’s best chance, swerving a right-footed effort wide of the near post towards the end of the first half, while Claire Skinner was in inspired form, making a number of key stops throughout the match - none better than a fingertip save to deny Thomai Vardali’s right on half-time.
Vlassopoulos got her second 20 minutes from time, but substitute Monet Legall had PAOK worried when she chased down a pass back to the keeper only to kick the ball straight into her. Unfortunately for the Swans, the ball ricocheted off target.
It was always going to be a tall task for Ceri Phillips’ side to advance against the Pan-Hellenic Women’s Football Championship side, who’ve claimed the Greek title in 16 of the past 17 seasons and haven’t tasted defeat in 12 months. The degree of difficulty was only added to by facing the Greek side at their home ground and in sweltering conditions.
The match kicked off with the temperature at a reported 38 degrees. Swansea soon got to grips with the challenging conditions, however, and a cynical foul on Katy Hosford gave Shaunna Jenkins the first chance to whip a ball into the box. However, it was overhit and straight into the keeper’s hands.
Kalesi missed two huge chances to give her side the lead. She took too long to control the ball when a cross found her unmarked at the back post, giving summer signing Lucy Finch chance to get across and block the first shot. She then skewed the rebounded effort off target from six yards.
However, Vlassopolous gave PAOK the lead just a few minutes later. Kalesi pinched the ball back from the Swans in the penalty area and cut it back to the home side’s number nine who was alone at the edge of the six-yard box and finished left-footed beyond Skinner.
PAOK continued to dominate possession, but failed to force Skinner into any more saves with an off-target strike from distance the only moment of note.
The Swans put their best move together shortly before the half-hour mark. A one-two between Lake and Stacey John-Davis released the former down the right, but her right-footed strike swerved wide of the near post.
The teams swapped half-chances shortly before the break. Finch miscued a volley from Jenkins’ cross into the PAOK box, before Maria Mitkou attempted an audacious effort direct from a free-kick about 30 yards out, which was easily collected by Skinner.
A through ball gave John-Davis chance to stretch her legs, but she was narrowly beaten to the ball by keeper Giota Chatzicharistou.
Despite the Swans having a better share of things in the second part of the first 45, it took a very good fingertip save by Skinner to deny Vardali’s looping shot from 25-yards right on half-time to prevent the Greek side from doubling their lead.
PAOK created a good chance early in the second half. A mis-controlled pass by the Swans in the middle of the park meant the Greek side were able to release four attacking players against two Swansea defenders. However, Georgia Chalatsogianni opted not to use her team-mates giving the Swans the chance to get bodies behind the ball and prevent a shot.
The closest the Swans came to finding the back of the net was in the 50th minute. Hosford’s ball into the box was headed narrowly wide by Alicia Powe, but it wouldn’t have counted anyway as the skipper had drifted offside.
Skinner was on hand to make a key stop down to her right when a long forward ball found Vlassopoulos.
Vasileia Giannaka put the ball in the net shortly after the hour-mark but it was, perhaps controversially, chalked off for offside.
While Giannaka herself wasn’t offside – making a run down the right from deep - Vlassopoulos was and her movement towards the ball was enough for the assistant to raise the flag. Referee Olivia Tschon’s whistle had gone long before the ball was in the net.
The overlapping runs down the PAOK right were proving effective for the home side as Swansea struggled to contain Giannaka. The full-back got in for a second time, but a superbly timed challenge by Powe prevented the danger.
Seconds later, Mitkou made the same movement and this time she was able to get a ball into the box. Vlassopoulos rose highest to head beyond Skinner.
Substitute Monet Legall’s tireless running saw her almost get one back. She chased down a pass back to Chalatsogianni, with the keeper’s clearance hitting the forward but bouncing off target.
John-Davis and Legall linked up in the PAOK box, but a last ditch defensive interception denied the latter a one-on-one with the host’s shot-stopper.
Gwennan Horgan used good footwork to dance away from a couple of challenges before chipping a lovely ball over the top for John-Davis. Chalatsogianni just about beat the 2021-22 Adran Premier League top scorer to the ball, denying the forward what would have almost certainly been a goal.
Giannaka drew a good stop from Skinner, when she again got down the right – but the ball rebounded straight back to her. She opted for the unselfish option, squaring the ball to Vlassopoulos at the edge of the six-yard box, but the striker ballooned the shot over the crossbar from close range, passing up her chance for a hat-trick.
Just like at the end of the first half, Skinner made an excellent stop to prevent a goal at the end of the second half. Georgia Chalatsogianni’s effort from distance had looked destined for the back of the net but Skinner got down well to her left to tip it around the post.