Cardiff Met Women's captain Tija Richardson believes her new-look team are not entering the UEFA Women's Champions League just to make up the numbers as the Archers head to Ukraine for the qualifying round.
“I can’t believe how quickly it has come around,” Richardson explained. “I’m really looking forward to it and I'm excited about playing in the Ukraine. It’s another new experience for me. I personally don’t know much about the teams we are playing against, but I know they are going to be of a very high standard, and we need to start each game at the same level as our opponents. We have been concentrating more on the way that we are going to play and set ourselves up.”
The team from the capital have been drawn in Group 6 and will open the mini-tournament against Romanian side Olimpia Cluj on Tuesday 7th August before taking on hosts Kharkiv on Friday 10th August. Birkirkara of Malta provide the final challenge on Monday 13th August, and Richardson is confident the Archers can make history by becoming the first team from the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League to reach the knockout-stages of the competition.
Richardson is no stranger to the UWCL having played and scored in the competition before. “During my time at Swansea City I captained the side in Cyprus in 2011/12 and scored in a 4-0 win against Progrès Niederkorn. The whole experience was fantastic. I joined Cardiff Met in 2016/17 when we hosted the UWCL qualifiers, and the highlight was winning the first game of the campaign and playing it in Wales in front of all my family and friends. I really loved the experience with my new team at the time.”
However, Cardiff Met missed out on a place in the UWCL in 2017/18 as her former club reclaimed the WPWL title, and the disappointment provided extra motivation ahead of the last domestic campaign. “It was hard seeing another team going to the Champions League as all season that is what you work and strive for as a team,” she explained. “I wasn’t going to let them win the league again last season. I was determined that we were going to win it and I think that showed in the way we played. Every game we didn’t give up until the final whistle. Even if it meant us putting our bodies on the line, we did it together.”
It has been a busy summer at the Cyncoed Campus with ten new signings arriving from all corners of the world. “We have made some quality signings and they have all settled in very well,” Richardson added. “If you seen them play you would think that they have been with us all season, that's how much we have gelled as a team. They are all hard working and have fantastic footballing ability which has boosted our squad.
“The preparation has been great. The strength and conditioning team have been fantastic with the girls this summer and have put a lot of time and effort in to prepare us for the challenge. Our pre-season games have been challenging for us and have put us through our paces as a squad. I think that we are more than capable of getting out of the group stage. We're not going there to make up the numbers, we are going there to play football. It’s going to be very tough, mentally and physically, but we have the footballing ability within the squad to deal with it.”
UEFA Women's Champions League Preliminary Round Group 6
Kharkiv, Ukraine, 7-13 August
7 Aug, 09:00 - Olimpija Cluj v Cardiff Met Women
7 Aug 15:00 - WFC Kharkiv v Birkikara
10 Aug 09:00 - Olimpija Cluj v Birkikara
10 Aug 15:00 - Cardiff Met Women v WFC Kharkiv
13 Aug 16:00 - Birkikara v Cardiff Met Women
13 Aug 16:00 - WFC Kharkiv v Olimpija Cluj