As the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 draws ever nearer, several of the participating nations took the opportunity to play friendly matches, including another show of strength from USA. Meanwhile, qualification for UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 was at the top of the agenda in Europe, with France and Germany becoming the first teams to secure their places at the tournament.
USA make their mark once more
While preparing for Rio 2016, the Stars and Stripes once again proved why they are favourites heading into the competition, as FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football Jill Ellis’s side defeated Colombia 7-0 and 3-0 in two friendly matches. The first game was played in front of a 21,792-strong crowd at the Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut, where a brace from Allie Long and additional goals from Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath and Christen Press allowed six US internationals to get their names on the scoresheet. The reigning world champions then adopted a slightly more relaxed tempo at a sold-out Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, as a strike from Press and two further goals from Julie Johnston helped the team to a 3-0 victory. The USA will meet Japan in their next friendly match in Commerce City, Colorado, on 2 June.
Elsewhere, fellow Olympic participants Canada took on UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 hosts the Netherlands, beating them 2-1 in a close-fought encounter. Christine Sinclair opened the scoring with her 162nd international goal in the 34th minute, with Janine Beckie doubling the visitors’ advantage in the second half. Stefanie van der Gragt then grabbed a consolation strike for the Oranje Leeuwinnen just a minute later.
"I’m really happy with the performance today,“ Canada coach John Herdman said after the game. "The Dutch have had good results against France and Japan recently at home, so we knew it would be tough. What I loved about today is that we looked dangerous and I think that’s what we’ve been pushing this Canadian team towards." The Dutch recorded a 2-0 win over New Zealand three days earlier thanks to Shanice van de Sanden’s goalscoring efforts.
Bring on EURO 2017: France and Germany qualify
France and Germany became the first teams to book their tickets to the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands. Les Bleues lead Qualifying Group 3 with an unassailable 18 points after defeating Romania 1-0 and Ukraine 4-0.
In Group 5, Germany recorded their fifth and sixth wins of the campaign by beating Turkey 6-0 and Croatia 2-0, taking their goal tally to 30 scored and none conceded. And though the defending champions’ tally of 18 points mean they have now safely qualified, Russia could not get the better of Hungary in the group’s other game, drawing 3-3.
While Germany’s Swiss neighbours cannot yet lay claim to a place in the Netherlands, they are certainly on the right track. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side celebrated a 2-1 home win in a top-of-the-table clash with Italy to maintain a perfect record of five wins from five matches.
Scotland boast a similar tally after defeating Slovenia 3-1 to climb to the top of Group 1 and guarantee at least a play-off spot. Qualification for the Netherlands in 2017 would be the Scots’ first appearance at a UEFA Women’s EURO.
Captivating duels for EURO berths
A fascinating battle for first place is unfolding in two other groups, with Belgium and England currently in neck and neck in Group 7. The Red Flames are leading the way after a resounding 6-0 victory over Estonia, while England recorded a 1-0 win in their game against Bosnia and Herzegovina after the encounter between the group’s top two sides ended in a 1-1 stalemate four days previously. With the two rivals separated by a single point, the Three Lionesses’ game in hand means they still have control over their own destiny. Excitement is mounting ahead of the last round of matches, when Belgium and England will meet on Belgian soil.
A similar story is unfolding between Austria and Norway in Group 8, where both teams are currently tied on 12 points despite Norway having played one less game. The Scandinavians defeated their rivals 1-0 when the two sides met on Sunday, with Lene Mykjaland scoring the only goal from the penalty spot. The reverse fixture will be played in Oslo on 2 June.
There was progress for Spain, too. La Roja's 4-1 win over Portugal and 3-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland guaranteed them a top-two finish in Group 2 and a play-off spot. Spain and Scotland are the two teams so far to be guaranteed at least a play-off spot.
The eight group winners and six best runners-up will qualify for the finals in the Netherlands, while the remaining two group runners-up will contest the play-offs between 17 and 25 October 2016.