On 9 July 2005, Russia kicked off the qualifiers for the FIFA Women's World Cup China PR 2007 with a resounding 5-1 success over Republic of Ireland. Yet, while 110 of the 136 scheduled prelimary games have already taken place, and no fewer than 391 goals scored, no team - not even reigning world and European champions Germany - is yet guaranteed a place in China next year.
FIFA.com gives you the low-down on the outstanding action so far, and offers an overview of the key games taking place between 26 August and 30 September.
Group 1: Norway need result in Ukraine
Of all the qualifying sections, Group 1 is by far the toughest to call. On paper at least, Norway appear to be in a position of strength, as with 18 points already under their belts, the Scandinavians need just one more point from their remaining two matches to book their ticket to China. However, Bjarne Berntsen's proteges still need to play Italy (15 points from seven games) and Ukraine (also 15 points from seven games), their two main rivals.
The first of these two stiff tests will take place in the Ukrainian city of Lvov, against an Eastern European outfit riding the crest of a wave after five wins on the trot, including a stunning 2-1 victory over the Italians. For Berntsen, the aim is simple: "We will be going there to win and secure our place at the World Cup." Italy, meanwhile, will have their fingers crossed for a Norwegian slip-up that would throw the group wide open, because despite having lost 1-0 in Norway, the Azzurri could still pinch first place from the current pace-setters, provided they beat them by at least two clear goals on home soil.
Group 2: Swedes in pole position
With two matches yet to play, Sweden are already practically in the comfort zone. Having garnered 16 points from six games, the Scandinavian side boast a healthy lead over Czech Republic and Iceland, their most serious rivals. Although both have one game in hand, the leaders hope to take advantage of the Czechs' tricky trip to the North Atlantic to make their qualification mathematically certain. Judging by their recent 6-0 demolition of Belarus - a success that included a hat-trick from striker Victoria Svensson - the clinical Swedes look fully equipped to do just that.
Group 3: Danes and Finns in tussle for top spot
The only two teams still in the running for qualification from Group 3, Denmark and Finland, still have to play each other - twice! For the moment, the Danes sit in first place on sixteen points, with the Finns nicely poised three points behind them. Consequently, the Danes know that a victory on their trip to Tampere on 26 August would make their place in China safe, but if that game were to end in a draw, Finland could still qualify if they win the return match away in Viborg on 27 September. Should the Finns seize the spoils in front of their own fans, they would only need a draw in Denmark to pip their rivals to the single FIFA World Cup place up for grabs. Suffice to say that everything hangs on the next two matches.
Group 4: Russia up pressure on Germans
Those who expected Germany to qualify from Group 4 at a canter have been forced to revise their estimates. For while the reigning world and European champions have won all four of their matches so far, their Russian rivals remain in with a clear shout. Despite having been soundly beaten 5-1 by Silvia Neid's charges early in the qualifying campaign, the Russians have recovered to take maximum points from their subsequent five games, including the highly prized scalps of Scotland and Republic of Ireland away from home. The Mannschaft may still have four games to play, but they already have precious little room for error. For as their hard-fought 1-0 win two months ago over the Irish showed, there are no longer any easy games in Europe, and the champions face four straight away fixtures: in Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland, and then Russia, for a game that could decide the outcome of the group.
Group 5: England's path blocked by France
With 16 points in six matches, England are entering the home straight in a dominant position. Until now, Hope Powell's side's progression has been near-flawless, but the draw conceded at home against France could yet prove their undoing in the final reckoning. Lurking three points off the pace, the French are pinning their hopes on the fact that they have yet to play host to the English, a crunch match that occupies last place on the fixture list of 136 European qualifying encounters.
The French have acquired the happy habit of coming up trumps against their age-old rivals. When the two teams met in play-off matches for the FIFA Women's World Cup United States 2003, the Tricolores recorded a pair of 1-0 successes courtesy of goals from Marinette Pichon and Corinne Diacre. The current situation is complicated, however, by the fact that the Netherlands could also still produce a late spurt in the race for top spot. With nine points from five games and two supposedly straightforward home matches against Austria and Hungary ahead, the Dutch might yet spring a surprise. First, though, they will need to win in England at the end of August in order to keep their dream alive, and that looks sure to be no easy task.