Carmona and contentious calls prevented Chelsea and Hayes from having an ideal start to their WCL journey.

The Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano was filled with controversy as Chelsea faced off against Real Madrid in their first Champions League match, resulting in a 2-2 draw. Despite Olga Carmona scoring an early goal, Niamh Charles’s header equalized the score in the first half. Chelsea seemed to have a strong lead thanks to Sam Kerr, but Madrid was given a questionable penalty which Carmona successfully converted.

Despite a competitive game, the focus remained on the referee’s decisions, causing Emma Hayes to believe her team was unfairly denied a 3-1 victory. In the final moments of the match, Charles celebrated what she thought was a winning goal, solidifying her impressive performance and securing three crucial points for her team. However, the goal was disallowed due to an alleged violation by Kerr, leaving both the away team and their supporters bewildered.

“I am incredibly disappointed with the decisions made,” expressed a frustrated Hayes following the game. “I was able to observe from the sidelines that the tackle occurred outside of the box, so I am astonished that the officials on the field were unable to see that.”

“I believed that we had control of the game after scoring the first goal. We then took the lead at 2-1. However, a free kick was given as a penalty, and we scored a fair goal with Niamh Charles being three or four yards onside. It’s shameful. I had to review why the goal was not allowed, and it was determined that Sam was obstructing the goalkeeper. After reviewing the footage, it is clear that Sam was about seven or eight yards away from the goalkeeper.”

The end of the match was frustrating for Chelsea, who had mostly been in control. Manager Hayes is determined to win the only trophy missing from her collection before leaving for her new role as head coach of the US women’s national team at the end of the season. The news of her appointment dominated the headlines before the game.

Chelsea will have been well aware of the stern test posed by Madrid. The two teams met in the group stage last season when the Spanish side caused them problems, particularly on home soil. Here Alberto Toril’s team were without their standout midfielder, Caroline Weir, who was sidelined with an ACL injury, but possessed plenty of quality in the form of Linda Caicedo, Carmona and Athenea del Castillo.

Niamh Charles is congratulated by her teammates after levelling the scores at 1-1

The team began the game energetically, smoothly passing the ball and attempting to exploit openings in Madrid’s defense. They had an initial chance when Sjoeke Nüsken made a fantastic reverse pass to Fran Kirby in the penalty area, but Carmona made a superb tackle to stop her.

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After a few minutes, the player from the Spanish team who won the World Cup was able to create difficulties. Chelsea, who usually act quickly in clearing the ball, were unusually slow this time. Claudia Zornoza intercepted a clearance from Ann-Katrin Berger and quickly passed it to Carmona. The full-back then shot from a distance of 20 yards, with the ball deflecting off Millie Bright, who was unable to stop it.

At first, Chelsea seemed stunned but eventually gained momentum. They tied the score right before halftime when Charles broke away and scored with a header at the far post. This gave Chelsea the boost they needed as they came back onto the field looking better. Kerr had a chance to score when she sprinted through, but Misa was able to block her shot with a good hand.

The match came alive with a little over 15 minutes remaining. Chelsea was able to score the first goal thanks to a classic header by Kerr. As they were trying to secure the win, there was a dispute when Del Castillo was fouled outside the penalty area. Despite this, the referee awarded a penalty and Carmona successfully scored. Shortly after, there was a controversial decision to disallow a goal, resulting in Hayes’s team only earning one point to start their Champions League journey.