There were high hopes before kick-off in the UEFA qualifiers for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament and these proved well-founded. The battle between Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands for the final ticket to Rio 2016 was a keenly contested affair right down to the end, with no shortage of drama.
High-quality fare was on offer from the very beginning of this four-team mini-tournament, held in the Netherlands from 2 to 9 March. The hosts and Switzerland, who both made their debuts on the global stage at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™, played out an extremely entertaining goalfest to get their respective challenges underway. The crowd at the Kyocera Stadium in The Hague saw the net ripple no fewer than seven times, with the second half particularly replete with goalmouth action. Three goals between the 56th and 63rd minutes handed the Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) a commanding 4-1 lead and all concerned could have been forgiven for thinking it was game over. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's team clearly did not see it that way, however, storming back to set up a grandstand finish after making it 4-3 courtesy of efforts from Rahel Kiwic and Ramona Bachmann.
Goals were in shorter supply in the meeting between neighbours Norway and Sweden, although this did not make the action any less intriguing. The Swedes produced a businesslike performance to prevail 1-0 in a tight encounter, with Lisa Dahlkvist on the scoresheet. On the strength of this result, the Tre Kronor then took on Switzerland, whose opening defeat had left them with their backs to the wall. Once again a solitary strike, this time from Caroline Seger on the stroke of half-time, was enough to seal a Swedish victory, in the process ending Swiss hopes.
And then there were three
Norway remained in contention after cruising past the Netherlands 4-1. Their chance of booking a ticket to Rio now hinged on them beating Switzerland in the final round of fixtures, while also needing the Dutch to do them a favour against Sweden.
The Tre Kronor, meanwhile, were in pole position going into the last act, having won their first two matches. A point was all that was required for Lotta Schelin and Co to make sure they would be travelling to Brazil next summer.
But it was not plain sailing. Early on, it looked like the Dutch ladies would at long last form part of Europe's three-country Olympic contingent. Vivianne Miedema, who plies her trade with Bayern Munich, opened the scoring for her side after just four minutes and had fans up and down the Netherlands dreaming. Things continued to go their way when Sandrine Mauron notched an equaliser for Switzerland against Norway, the 2000 Olympic gold winners and former world and European champions. Dutch dreams were dashed, however, when they were also pegged back just before the interval; Olivia Schough levelled for the Swedes, who ultimately stood firm to secure first place and their participation at the Games.
The line-up for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament is now complete. Sweden and hosts Brazil will be joined by China PR and Australia, on behalf of the AFC; CAF representatives Zimbabwe and South Africa; New Zealand (from the OFC); Canada and USA (CONCACAF); Colombia (CONMEBOL); and Germany and France, the other two countries that will be flying the flag for Europe. The group stage draw takes place on 14 April 2016 at the Maracana.