- Faroe Islands set new high by reaching Women’s World Cup qualifying group stage
- The tiny nation has regularly overachieved over past three decades
- Focus now on growing women’s football at all levels
The Faroe Islands are used to facing adversity. An isolated and rocky windswept outcrop sitting alone in the north Atlantic Ocean midway between Scotland and Iceland, the archipelago boasts a population of just 50,000. In that context, it is impressive that the Faroe Islands even compete in the international arena. But they just don’t compete. Their achievements have, at times, been quite simply extraordinary.
In 1990, Faroe Islands made their international competition debut with a barely-believable 1-0 win over Austria – a nation that was once a FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalist. Overachievement has been a recurring theme ever since.
Now it is the turn of the national women’s team to make their mark. As part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it is little wonder that female football is alive and well in the Faroes. Now, three decades on from their first international match, the national team has won through to Europe’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifying group stage for the first time.
Hunting Europe’s biggest fish
A perfect record in pre-qualifying against Turkey, Montenegro and Luxembourg ensured the Faroes’ progress to tackle Europe’s elite. And they could barely have wished for a tougher task than two-time world champions and reigning European queens Germany. Faroe Islands will, in fact, kick-off the Old Continent’s charge for France 2019 with a home fixture against Czech Republic in the capital Torshavn in September. Slovenia and neighbours Iceland complete the group.
Faroe Islands have set their ambitions high and are hoping the France 2019 qualifiers will lead to increased interest for local women's football. “We want to show that women can play football in our country,” Faroe Islands coach Paetur Clementsen told FIFA.com. “And also try to inspire other smaller countries that, if they have a plan, they can also try and compete at the highest possible level.
— UEFA Women's EURO (@UEFAWomensEURO) April 25, 2017
“We applied to UEFA to host [the preliminary stage of qualifiers]. We wanted to generate real interest amongst the wider community, but especially among young girls, to show there were some new role models they could look up to.
Defeating Turkey was some feat, given they boast a population around 79 million. “We won our first two games, and after that, we said before our final game against Turkey: ‘We’ve already won’. There was a huge interest, and after we beat Turkey, it was like a new beginning. Now we want to keep the fire alive.”
Iceland’s success provides template
Born and bred in Torshavn, Clementsen was national U-17 coach by the age of 24, and last year became the FA’s Technical Director at just 35. He even spent five years studying in Copenhagen for a Masters in Sports Psychology. Little wonder this true believer for the cause describes his career as ‘quite a journey’.
Now the aim is to help grow women’s football at all levels. Currently the senior playing pool numbers just 300, but Clementsen is optimistic.
“Women’s football has always been progressive in Scandinavia, but in our country, it still has to develop,” he said. “We really look up to countries like Sweden, Norway and Denmark, but Iceland are a more realistic model to try to emulate, as in both men’s and women’s football, they’ve really done an amazing job, with limited resources, and with a limited population. The aim for us is to keep growing relative to our population.”