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  1. Soccer

Football: Champions Barca the team to beat once more

The first legs of the women's Champions League semi-finals begin on Friday, with Barcelona looking to retain their crown as the queens of Europe.

Last year they defeated Emma Hayes' Chelsea 4-0 in the final in Gothenburg, in what was a first-half annihilation by La Blaugrana.

Now, they are only a couple of steps away from reaching the final at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, as they prepare to face German side Wolfsburg in the two-legged semis, with Barca 1/5 to win the first leg at home on Friday.

The other finalist will be from France, with seven-time winners Lyon taking on a Paris Saint-Germain side looking to claim their first title - with their first leg taking place on Sunday

Barca looking ominously strong

Barcelona have been the dominant force in Spanish women's football for two years now and there are no signs of them slowing down just yet.

Last season, they won the league title by winning all but one of their games and ended with a goal difference of plus 152 - this year has been even better as they haven't dropped any points in 27 games.

They are widely recognised as having some of the best players in the world, with women's Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas among the standouts - she is the second top scorer in the women's Champions League so far this season.

In the group stages, they won six from six, conceding only one goal in the process, and then in the quarter-finals they thumped domestic rivals Real Madrid 8-3 on aggregate.

Wolfsburg, 5/1 to secure a draw in Spain, have the mammoth task of trying to stop them and they can at least draw on previous experiences of winning the tournament - they were victorious in 2013 and 2014 - and have also been three-time runners up.

Currently, they are top of the Frauen Bundesliga and they have a perfect record at home - with all their dropped league points having come away.

In truth, Barca are in a league of their own in world women's football and should probably be too strong for Wolfsburg in the first leg, with a 3-0 win for the hosts available at 15/2.

French battle for final berth

The second semi-final between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain is perhaps slightly harder to call, with the former enjoying home advantage for the first leg.

As it stands, Lyon - who have won the women's Champions League more than any other team in the competition's history - are five points clear of their rivals at the top of the Division 1 Feminine.

Most crucially, the one league meeting played so far this season was won by Lyon in emphatic fashion, as they thumped their rivals 6-1.

As a result, Lyon should arrive into this fixture feeling confident, but PSG will have happy memories of their tie from last season's quarter-finals.

The scoreline was 2-2 between these two sides after two legs, but the Parisians went through by virtue of the now defunct away goals rule.

The side from the French capital also had the superior record in the group stages - they won all six of their matches - while Lyon picked up five wins from six.

PSG have been runners-up in the competition twice, in 2015 and 2017, the latter seeing them lose out 7-6 on penalties to Lyon in Cardiff.

However, they are certainly more of a threat since those days and this match-up is genuinely difficult to predict.

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