Quartet do battle for Azeri berths
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There are just two qualifying slots left to be filled at the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, and both are reserved for European teams. Their names will soon no longer be a mystery, as the climax of the UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship, being staged in Nyon, Switzerland from 26 to 29 June, will soon reveal the identity of the qualifiers, and of the newly crowned continental champions.

Out of the 42 nations that originally set out to conquer Europe, only four now remain: Switzerland, France, Denmark and Germany. After having skilfully negotiated a preliminary group stage, the quartet were then faced with the challenge of finishing top of a second section in order to reach the final phase of the tournament, one they duly met. They now lock horns in two semi-finals, the winners of which will each book a ticket to Azerbaijan 2012.

The French were the first to secure their place in the last four. They won every game in the two previous rounds, and conceded just one goal, in an 8-1 rout of Moldova. At the other end of the pitch, Les Bleuets have been extremely effective, scoring 35 times, and seeing off solid sides like Norway and Republic of Ireland – quarter-finalists at Trinidad and Tobago 2010 – in the process.

 

Led by the striking duo of Lea Declercq and Sandie Toletti, who have racked up 13 goals between them, France can approach their semi-final clash with Switzerland in a confident mood. The Swiss are the only side among the final four to have never played at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but in front of their home fans, they are sure to be a force to be reckoned with.

 

After a high-scoring first phase, during which they found the net on 34 occasions, La Nati were handed a much tougher task in the second qualifying round, with Iceland, England and Belgium all vying with the Helvetians for top spot in the group. A draw with the Belgians and tight 1-0 victories in the remaining two matches proved sufficient for Switzerland to pursue their adventure.

Revenge in the air
The other semi-final sees Denmark take on tournament favourites Germany. Having eliminated reigning European champions Spain in the previous round, the Germans are the only team in the running that can aspire to three successive qualifications for the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

 

After bypassing the first qualifying round courtesy of their high UEFA ranking, Anouschka Bernhard’s charges proceeded to live up to their seeding in the next round, registering three victories without conceding a single goal.

Their final and decisive pool match against Las Rojitas saw the Germans emerge victorious, which represented a merited result in the eyes of their coach. “It was a difficult game, but apart from one good chance, we didn’t really give the dangerous Spanish strikeforce a sniff of goal. The win was deserved, in my opinion,” said Bernhard, adding, “We’re delighted to have qualified.”

Top-quality players such as Sara Dabritz, Laura Leluschko and Manjou Wilde, among others, will still need to be wary of the Danes, however.

Boasting a freescoring forward in the shape of Sarah Hansen, who has hit the back of the net eight times in six matches, Denmark have an eye on gaining revenge for a crucial 3-0 defeat by Germany in last year’s competition. Having knocked out Sweden and the Netherlands, who were also seeded, the Scandinavians may get their wish.

The final stages of the European Championship brings to a close a marathon-like process, which started on 29 September 2011 with a 6-0 win for Denmark over Greece.

And now a veritable sprint begins: the teams that earn the right to represent Europe will not even have the time to draw breath, as on 6 July, just one week after the final of the continental tournament, the draw for Azerbaijan 2012 is made in Baku. The event itself is scheduled to kick off a few weeks later, on 22 September.