Europe’s FIFA Women's World Cup hopefuls today learned the opponents they will face on the road to Canada at UEFA’s qualifying group stage draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
The draw, which involved a record 42 teams, produced several intriguing sections and pitted together many of the finalists at the upcoming UEFA Women’s EURO. Italy and Spain, for example, will do battle in Group 2, while Russia and Finland will face a stern test of their recent development against heavyweights Germany and France in Group 1 and Group 7 respectively.
Denmark, meanwhile, are set to renew a Nordic rivalry with fellow EURO qualifiers Iceland, while Sweden and Norway are likely to have it tough against ever-improving Scotland and Netherlands sides. The fact the Scots are managed by a Swede, Anna Signeul, adds intrigue to that particular encounter. England, meanwhile, will start as favourites in a section that includes, among others, Ukraine and neighbours Wales.
Among the teams drawn were a quartet who emerged from the recent preliminary stage, including two newcomers in the shape of Albania and Montenegro. Malta and the Faroe Islands also made it through those mini-tournaments, and the latter’s coach, Jon Pauli Olsen, declared before the draw: "You want to meet the big ones. That's where it's best to be." Meetings with the nearby Swedes and Scots should satisfy that craving.
An increased number of eight places are being fought over during this group phase, which will take place between 20/21 September 2013 and 17 September 2014, with matches on a home-and-away basis. All seven group winners will advance directly to Canada 2015, while the four runners-ups with the best record against the sides first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups will face play-off matches on 25/26 and 29/30 October and 22/23 and 26/27 November 2014 for the remaining berth.
The full draw is as follows: