European play-off contenders finalised
© Getty Images

The eight-nation line-up for the play-offs in European qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ is now complete. Italy and England sealed their berths a while ago, and were joined by France, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland at the weekend. Now, following Wednesday evening’s final round of group matches, Denmark and Ukraine have claimed the last two places.

The eight nations concerned now look forward with baited breath to the draw for the play-offs, to be held next Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. The first legs will be played on 11 and 12 September, with the returns on 15 and 16 September.

The four winners are definitely through to the finals in Germany next summer, but one of the losers will benefit from a second bite at the cherry. The four defeated teams go into a further play-off round in October, with the team which emerges victorious then playing the third-placed nation in North and Central America and the Caribbean for the final place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Ukraine edge out Poland
For the Danes, who have only failed to appear at the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals once and were determined not to suffer a repeat of their 2003 disappointment, Wednesday was a matter of pride and honour, but it was equally nerve-racking for Ukraine, who have yet to feature at the global event.

Despite an undefeated record with 45 goals for and none against, Denmark went into the meeting with closest rivals Scotland still needing at least a point to be sure of winning Group 3. The match in Vejle ended in a tense goalless draw, to the obvious relief of coach Kenneth Heiner-Moeller.

In Group 4, Ukraine entertained group leaders Poland in Chernigov and won 3-1, overtaking the Poles with the finishing line in sight. Daryna Apanaschenko contributed a brace to her country’s notable success.

Russians thwarted by Switzerland
Overall, only one team in all eight qualifying groups succeeded in winning the section without dropping a single point. France mounted a flawless charge to the play-offs, chalking up a remarkable 50 goals for and none against on the way. Apart from the Danes, fellow group winners Norway, England, Italy and Sweden also remained undefeated.

The biggest surprise was sprung by Switzerland, who topped Group 6 ahead of favourites Russia and are now targeting a maiden appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals. "It's a great achievement. In our forthcoming matches, the vital component won’t be any single individual, it’ll be the whole team," Switzerland coach Beatrice von Siebenthal commented.

Elsewhere, the number of confirmed starters at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 is now up to four. Hosts Germany qualify automatically, and will definitely be joined by Asian Confederation trio Australia, Korea DPR and Japan. The finals run from 26 June to 17 July 2011.