Four European teams are already celebrating their qualification for the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™. As well as Germany, who qualify automatically as hosts, fans can look forward to seeing France, Norway, England and Sweden at the finals next year, after the quartet secured their places with victory in the play-offs.
Sweden full of confidence
The clash between Sweden and Denmark promised plenty of drama from the moment the Scandinavian duo's names were drawn together. With the nations rated fourth and tenth respectively on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, the tie itself certainly did not disappoint.
Thomas Dennerby's Sweden ran out 2-1 winners in the first leg thanks to goals from Linda Forsberg and Lotta Schelin. That result left things delicately poised ahead of the return in Vejle, where the Danes pushed their Swedish visitors all the way. Indeed, it took extra time to determine the victor, a brace from Charlotte Rohlin eventually ensuring Sweden maintained their record of never missing a FIFA Women's World Cup.
"I think we can look back on this as our best year in a long time. I actually believe my squad is the best national team we've ever had," explained Dennerby recently in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
England and Norway clinical
Having never made it to a FIFA Women's World Cup in the past, Switzerland were one of the surprise packages of the qualifying campaign, leaving strong favourites Russia in their wake in European Zone Group 6. However, Beatrice von Siebenthal's girls were unable to cause a similar shock in the play-offs against their English counterparts, who all but assured their place at the finals with a 2-0 first-leg victory.
The Swiss put in a spirited performance in the return leg but were unable to prevent a 3-2 defeat. England, meanwhile, who reached the final of the UEFA Women's European Championships in 2009, can look forward to their third appearance at a FIFA Women's World Cup. "I'm delighted that we're going to be there in Germany. It hasn't quite sunk in yet, but we've done it and fulfilled our task. I'm very relieved," said head coach Hope Powell.
Another side who missed out on qualification in the first round of play-offs was Ukraine. Coach Anatoliy Kutsev's attacking charges were unable to penetrate a solid Norwegian defence, the Gresshoppene securing a comfortable 3-0 aggregate win to qualify for their sixth consecutive FIFA Women's World Cup.
France qualify for a second time
Last but by no means least, France and Italy went head to head in the remaining fixture with both sides confident of a place at the finals. After the first leg in Besancon finished goalless, there was all to play for in Gubbio, Italy, where the hosts took an early lead in a close-fought affair.
However, Elise Bussaglia (53), Gaetane Thiney (58) and Sonia Bompastor (90+2) turned the tie in France's favour in the second half, and, despite a late consolation from Guilia Domenichetti (90+3), there was to be no way back for La Nazionale. "It's our reward for a year of hard work," said Bleuettes captain Ophelie Meilleroux on her side's second qualification for the tournament.
France 0-0 Italy
Italy 2-3 France
England 2-0 Switzerland
Switzerland 2-3 England
Ukraine 0-1 Norway
Norway 2-0 Ukraine
Sweden 2-1 Denmark
Denmark 2-2 (aet) Sweden
Not over yet...
The good news for losers of the first round of play-offs is that their dreams of a place at the finals are not over just yet. They will now play in a further knockout round to determine who will take on the third-placed team in North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying for the final place at Germany 2011.
Ukraine face Italy and Denmark take on Switzerland, with the matches to be played on 2/3 and 6/7 October.
Round 1: 2/3 & 6/7 October
1: Loser Play-off 4 (Denmark) - Loser Play-off 2 (Switzerland)
2: Loser Play-off 3 (Ukraine) - Loser Play-off 1 (Italy)
Round 2: 23/24 & 27/28 October
Winner match 1 v Winner match 2
The winner of this match will takes on the third-placed team in the CONCACAF Championship.