Surprises were conspicuous by their absence, on the field at least, as some of women’s football’s leading sides did battle over the weekend.
Europe’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifiers certainly did little to raise eyebrows, although Germany came within a whisker of dropping their first points of the campaign. Sylvia Neid’s team had travelled to Dublin having scored 40 and conceded none in their previous five preliminary matches, but Republic of Ireland offered the Algarve Cup champions their toughest test in some time.
Indeed, the Germans were stunned inside two minutes when Louise Quinn headed the hosts in front, and though goals from Simone Laudehr and Lena Lotzen seemed to have retrieved the situation, Stephanie Roche struck in the dying minutes to seemingly secure a famous draw. The celebrating Irish fans reckoned, however, without their visitors’ legendary never-say-die spirit, and the outcome was settled in injury time when the wind carried Melanie Leupolz’s cross-cum-shot beyond Emma Byrne.
It was a heartbreaking conclusion to the game for the Republic, particularly for Byrne, who was setting a new national team record by winning her 106th cap. And while they remain second in Group 1, Russia are now just a point behind with a game in hand after beating Slovenia 4-1.
Swiss shine as England, France cruise
Elsewhere, the most anticipated qualifier of the weekend – pitting first against second in Group 2 – saw Spain and Italy fight out a goalless draw. The game was every bit as closely matched as the scoreline suggests, with the Spanish well worth a point that keeps them six clear of their hosts, having played a game more.
Scotland, meanwhile, remain top of Group 4 after beating Poland 2-0 in Motherwell for the team’s fifth successive victory. Sweden are three points behind with a game in hand, though, and kept pace with a comfortable 4-0 success in Northern Ireland.
Just as the Scots had to endure some nervy moments before finally seeing off the Poles, so Iceland laboured at times in claiming a vital 1-0 win away to Israel. The result led to the duo switching places in Group 3, although Iceland remain nine points adrift of a rampant Switzerland team that put 11 unanswered goals past Malta.
England and France were similarly dominant, racking up 9-0 and 7-0 wins over Montenegro and Kazakhstan respectively. Toni Duggan scored a hat-trick to maintain Mark Sampson’s fine start since taking charge of the English, while there were braces for Camille Abily, Gaetane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie as Les Bleues made it five qualifying wins from five. Finland, who also maintained their 100 per cent record with a 4-0 win in Hungary, remain hot on France’s heels, while England look to be building up a commanding lead in Group 6.
Group 5 leaders Norway were not in action, and rivals Belgium and the Netherlands took full advantage with identical 6-0 wins to move into first and second place respectively. The Norwegians, a point behind with two games in hand, face a crucial trip to Leuven to face the new leaders on Thursday as the qualifying picture continues to take shape. Other matches to look out for include a potentially thrilling meeting between Denmark and the high-flying Swiss.
Sermanni exits as USA, Brazil win
Away from the competitive action in Europe, a couple of high-profile friendly matches caught the eye, with Brazil racking up a morale-boosting 1-0 win away to Australia. In the first of a two-match series, Debora Oliveira scored the decisive goal as the South Americans triumphed amid heavy rain in Brisbane.
There was also a return to form for USA, who looked impressive in a 2-0 win over China PR in which Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe both found the net. The big news came a few hours after yesterday’s final whistle, though, with the announcement that the match would be Tom Sermanni’s last in charge.
US Soccer confirmed that the former Australia coach had been relieved of his duties, with federation president Sunil Gulati declaring a desire to “go in a different direction” in the search for a replacement.