Chelsea Ladies boss Emma Hayes: English clubs 'no longer second class in Europe'

Chelsea Ladies players celebrate after the Blues reached the semi-finals of the Women's Champions League
Chelsea Ladies had not progressed past the last 16 of the Women's Champions League before this season

Chelsea Ladies boss Emma Hayes says English clubs are "no longer second class in Europe" after the Blues and Manchester City both reached the last four of the Women's Champions League.

It is the first time two British sides have made the semi-finals.

"For so long we have been told English clubs can't do it, because it is about the French teams and the German sides," Hayes told BBC Radio 5 live.

"It is a proud day for both Chelsea and City to progress to this level."

Women's Super League One leaders Chelsea reached the last four of the competition for the first time after a 3-1 win over Montpellier on Wednesday to progress 5-1 on aggregate.

City, meanwhile, beat Swedish club Linkopings 5-3 at home to seal a 7-3 aggregate victory.

The progression of English clubs on the continent is a further boost for the English game after the Football Association said it is on track to double the number of players and fans in women's football by 2020.

The national side, now managed by former Manchester United and Everton midfielder Phil Neville, are second in the Fifa world rankings - their highest ever placing.

And Baroness Sue Campbell, the head of women's football at the FA, has revealed that England are one of three teams vying to host the 2021 European Women's Championship. along with Austria and Hungary.

History makers

Chelsea are the fourth British side to reach this stage of the competition since it was rebranded to become the Champions League in 2009-10, while City have made the last four for a second year running.

Arsenal Ladies, now known as Arsenal Women, lifted the Uefa Women's Cup in 2007 but no other British side has ever progressed to the final, with the competition traditionally dominated by French and German clubs.

British semi-finalists

Hayes hailed the investment in the west London club in the past few years, which has laid the foundations for their current success.

"I have got a tremendous club that back us in every quarter," she added. "I am so pleased to deliver that result.

"This is a celebration of how much clubs invest. They put a lot of money into it, but it is not just that.

"We wouldn't make the semi-final if the recruitment wasn't right, but equally with the development of the players who are here.

"It is the resources that provide the platform for the players to be successful."

Challenging opponents

Both English sides have difficult ties in the last four, with Chelsea up against former winners Wolfsburg and City facing four-times champions Lyon, who are chasing a third consecutive Champions League title.

German side Wolfsburg have knocked Chelsea out in each of the past two seasons - in the last 16 in 2015-16 and the last 32 a year later.

"When you get walloped by them two years running you learn what you need," added Hayes, who is pregnant with twins.

"I'm not afraid of Wolfsburg and I know my dressing room is not. Let's bring it on and hopefully I don't give birth pitchside."

Emma Hayes (right) celebrates after Chelsea Ladies progressed to the Women's Champions League semi-final
Emma Hayes (right) has been in charge of Chelsea Ladies since the summer of 2012

Chelsea and England striker Fran Kirby says the Blues are a "different team" to the one beaten by Wolfsburg in the past two years, although she thinks the English club are still second favourites to progress.

"I think we have been underdogs in every game in the Champions League so far," the 24-year-old said.

"Everyone has written us off, especially when we drew Bayern Munich in the first round. People are starting to wake up and realise Chelsea mean something now."

A new domestic rivalry?

Chelsea and Manchester City are rivals for the Women's Super League One title, with the Blues two points ahead of City in the table having played a game more, and the two clubs will also meet in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in April.

Kirby believes the two clubs will push each other on and spark further interest in the women's game.

"We have got one of the best leagues in Europe, if not all over, and it is improving all the time," she said.

"It will generate people wanting to come and play in this league. People are interested to see what is going on here."

With both clubs still in the hunt for a treble, fans of the domestic game will be dreaming of an all-English Champions League final, emulating Manchester United's victory over Chelsea in the men's competition in 2008.

"I know some people will probably want us to face each other in the semi-finals as then at least one English team goes through," Hayes said.

"Who's to say both English teams can't qualify and meet each other in the final?"

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