The first qualifying round of the 2011/12 UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship, which drew to a close at the beginning of November, saw an initial total of 42 teams whittled down to a field of just 16.
Traditional powers such as Russia, Italy and Croatia have already bid farewell to their chances of lifting the trophy, as well as claiming one of the three places available for European teams at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012. Despite this, the big favourites are still in the running for the title.
Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Norway, France, England, Denmark, Belgium, defending champions Spain and Iceland were the teams that emerged as winners of their respective groups, advancing to the second qualifying round of the competition in the process.
They will be joined by the four best runners-up, namely Czech Republic, Serbia, Finland and Poland, and by Germany and the Netherlands, who received a bye from the first round due to their elevated UEFA coefficient.
The Swiss, who will host the final tournament in June 2012, were particularly impressive in their Group 1 outings, seeing off Poland, Latvia and Georgia in resounding fashion, scoring 34 goals and conceding two over three matches.
Brigitte Steiner’s charges were not alone in chalking up three wins out of three; Norway, England, France, Spain and Sweden also all finished on nine points. The Spanish and Swedes, as well as Belgium and the Czech Republic, even managed to make it through their fixtures without letting in a single goal.
Sweden forward Marija Banusic struck a particularly rich vein of form during the first round, hitting the back of the net 11 times. She lies ahead of Nicole Billa on the scoring chart, with the latter's eight goals insufficient to propel Austria to the next stage of the competition. Swiss duo Audrey Wuichet and Sabrina Ribeaud are currently tied for third with seven strikes.
On Tuesday 15 November, the draw for the second round was held at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon. The 16 teams, including Germany and the Netherlands, who qualified directly for this stage, were divided up into four pools of four. Lady Luck was not kind to the Germans, placing them in the same group as title holders Spain. Since the continental event began in season 2007/08, these two teams have, between them, won all four of the tournaments played to date.
Each group winner will secure a place in the finals. Two of those sides will go on to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, one as champions of Europe.
Second qualifying round
Group 1: Switzerland, England, Belgium, Iceland
Group 2: France, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Poland
Group 3: Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland
Group 4: Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Serbia