Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes was bursting with pride after watching her new-look side hold their nerve to book their place in the final of the International Women’s Club Championship in Japan.
Hayes’s side included new signings Laura Bassett and Rachel Williams, who both joined from WSL rivals Birmingham City last month, as well as American Allie Long and Swedish defender Emma Wilhelmsson, who are on loan and trial respectively.
As expected Chelsea started slowly but after midfielder Laura Coombs gave them a 35th minute lead they seized control with England striker Eniola Aluko and Japanese superstar Yuki Ogimi appearing to have secured the win with strikes early in the second half.
But Sydney refused to throw in the towel and goals from Renee Rollason and Jodie Taylor set up a grandstand finish, only for Hayes’ charges to stand tall and book a spot in Sunday’s final against Japanese double winners INAC Kobe Leonessa where a bumper crowd is expected.
“I’m happy with the way the team performed. To come all this way to Japan and play against the Australian champions is difficult in itself, but to do that in our off season and win the game shows what wonderful character and spirit we are building at Chelsea,” said Hayes.
“It took us a while to get going. We looked like a team out of season and Sydney started the game brightly, were sharp, quick to the ball and created a lot of chances.
“But we hung in there and in the end the difference between the two teams was that we were more clinical in the final third.”
The challenge facing Chelsea in Tokyo will be vast, and even the appearance of World Cup winner Ogimi in a blue shirt won’t sway the partisan home support away from INAC.
But whatever the outcome, Hayes believes Chelsea are a side on the up as they continue their preparations for the start of the Women’s Super League in April.
“In our next game we play one of the best teams in the world, and a team I have followed closely over the last couple of years, as a fan,” added Hayes.
“I expect two teams with similar style, INAC too are in the middle of their season and I expect them to dominate possession.
“We have to respect that we are still in pre-season, put in a solid performance and hopefully come away with something.
“We’re in the middle of trying to bring players into our team for next season. We felt this was a good opportunity to experiment and bring some players on trial, but we select a game dependent on what our needs are. At the moment I don’t know what we will do for INAC but every player is in consideration.”