If the month of March in women’s football could be summed up in one headline, it might read: ‘Qualification? Consider it done!’ The last three teams secured their places at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Rio 2016, while a further nine sides can begin packing their bags for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. FIFA.com rounds up women’s football news from around the globe.
Sweden heading to Rio
The race for the final European ticket to Rio 2016 could hardly have been more exciting. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands competed in an extremely close-fought battle from which the Swedes ultimately emerged triumphant. Under the watchful eye of coach Pia Sundhage, the Tre Kronor drew 1-1 with their Dutch hosts on the final day of the four-team tournament, having previously defeated both Norway and Switzerland 1-0.
Japan fail to qualify for the Olympics
There was a huge surprise in Asia as the third and final round of Olympic qualification unfolded in Osaka. Japan won just two of their five matches to finish in third place behind Australia and China PR, prompting Norio Sasaki to accept the consequences of missing out on this summer’s competition by resigning as Nadeshiko coach. The Matildas set the pace from the start, beating Japan 3-1, Vietnam 9-0, Korea Republic 2-0 and Korea DPR 2-1 to set up a final-day showdown with China PR. That encounter ended in a 1-1 draw, leaving the Australians top of the table with 13 points, and two points clear of their Chinese rivals.
Papua New Guinea drawn in exciting group
The draw for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2016 took place at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 17 March, with hosts Papua New Guinea set to meet Brazil, Sweden and Korea DPR in Group A. Defending champions Germany will fancy their chances of progressing from Group D, where Venezuela, Mexico and Korea Republic await. 2014 runners-up Nigeria must take on Spain, Canada and Japan in Group B, while the USA face France, Ghana and New Zealand in Group C.
FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup field takes shape
With four teams already confirmed, nine more sides joined them in March. Only Europe’s representatives now need to be decided to complete the line-up for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. From Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and debutantes Cameroon booked their places after a final qualifying round consisting of two-leg play-offs in which Ghana’s Black Maidens celebrated a 10-0 aggregate victory over Morocco, Nigeria defeated South Africa 7-0 and Cameroon beat Egypt 6-1.
Meanwhile, South American sides Venezuela, Brazil and Paraguay demonstrated their mastery of the beautiful game as Venezuela emerged 1-0 victors against Brazil in the final match of the CONMEBOL South American U-17 Women’s Championship, while Paraguay beat Colombia 2-1 to secure third place. USA once again reinforced their dominance in the North and Central America and Caribbean region as the team from the land of the world champions lifted the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship trophy for the third time in succession. Mexico and Canada will join them on the global stage this September/October.
Top teams tested in the USA, Portugal and Cyprus
Several international tournaments were held in March. The most illustrious of these was the SheBelieves Cup in the USA, contested by four of the world’s top five teams: Germany, France, England and the hosts. The Stars and Stripes and Germany recorded narrow wins on the first two matchdays of the competition to set up a winner-takes-all showdown on day three in which the world champions prevailed 2-1 over their European rivals.
At the long-established Algarve Cup in Portugal, the field of competitors was reduced from 12 to eight, with Canada eventually defeating Brazil 2-1 in the final. Another eight European sides tested their mettle at the Cyprus Cup, where Austria celebrated their biggest success in women’s football to date by beating Poland 2-1 in the tournament decider.
UEFA Women’s Champions League last four confirmed
The quarter-finals of Europe’s biggest club competition were contested in March. VfL Wolfsburg and Olympique Lyon swept aside their opponents, defeating ACF Brescia 6-0 and Slavia Prague 9-1 respectively on aggregate, while 1. FFC Frankfurt needed penalties to get the better of record Swedish league champions Rosengard. After Frankfurt won the first leg 1-0, the second-leg score was 1-0 to the Scandinavian side after normal time and extra time, forcing the tie to be decided by spot-kicks. Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain edged out Barcelona 1-0. The final on 26 May 2016 is guaranteed to be a Franco-German affair, with Wolfsburg and Frankfurt set to meet in one last-four encounter while Lyon and PSG battle it out in the other.
The second edition of the FIFA Women’s Football and Leadership Conference was held on 7 March. As part of a section entitled ‘Equality through Reform’, the event focused on three areas: the development of women’s football, women in leadership roles and reforms. The conference featured guest speakers such as tennis legend Billie Jean King, former USA star player Abby Wambach, Stony Brook University’s Professor Michael Kimmel and BBC Director of Sport Barbara Slater. FIFA President Gianni Infantino also participated in the event and said in closing: “Women’s football and women in football is a priority – it’s part of the solution for the future of football.”
20 – The close-fought nature of the USA’s SheBelieves Cup was made clear by the fact that the deciding goals were only scored in the final 20 minutes of each match. The most dramatic of these was in the Stars and Stripes’ 1-0 win over France, where Alex Morgan fired home in stoppage time.
"We wanted to change the pub conversation. I wanted men to sit in the pub and when they were asked in a pub quiz, ‘Who’s the best women’s team in the country?’ they no longer said Arsenal Ladies."
Chelsea Ladies coach Emma Hayes describes the effect she wanted her team to have in the FAWSL (Football Association Women's Super League)