Netherlands, Norway on the brink as EURO race hots up
Qualification for the UEFA Women's EURO is reaching a critical stage
Norway and the Netherlands need just one more win to secure their spot
34-match schedule commences on Wednesday and concludes on 27 October
Qualification for the UEFA Women’s EURO is approaching the home straight. Having won all of their matches so far, defending champions the Netherlands need just one more win against Estonia on 23 October to start planning their trip to England in 2022.
The same is true of two-time European champions Norway. The Gresshoppene could also book their ticket to the finals on 27 October if they pick up more points against Wales than Belarus manage against Northern Ireland. However, the other groups are a much tighter affair.
EURO 2022 – Brief refresher:
Dates: The tournament will be held from 6 to 31 July 2022 in England
Participating teams: 16, including England, who qualify automatically as hosts
Qualifiers: The 47 participating teams have been split into nine groups. The winners and three best runners-up secure automatic berths, while the remaining six second-placed sides will contest a play-off for the final three places.
23 October, Estadio Olimpico, Seville
After recording a win and a draw from two matches against Poland in September, the Czech Republic are in second place in their group with ten points, enough to secure a place in the play-off round.
Spain currently top the group with the same number of points and a game in hand, and will now be looking to cement their position with victory over the Czechs. For Jorge Vilda, success against their closest rivals is essential for Spain to get their hands on a ticket to the EUROs at the earliest opportunity. Previous results favour the Spaniards, who recorded a resounding 5-1 win in the reverse fixture in Prague on 8 October 2019 and have won four of their last five games.
"We are really looking forward to playing in Seville for the first time," said Vilda in a press conference. "The team that wins the Spain-Czech Republic duel will clear the way to a first-place finish and qualification for the European Championships," he concluded.
27 October, Stadion Wiener Neustadt, Wiener Neustadt
At first glance, the result of the duel between the teams ranked 3rd and 24th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking appears to be a foregone conclusion, with France going into the match as clear favourites. Nothing less than three points will be good enough for the side coached by Corinne Diacre, who will not be able to attend the match in person after testing positive for coronavirus.
Yet it only takes one look at the table to realise that Austria are emerging as serious contenders to top Group G. They currently have a three-point lead and have scored three more goals than anyone else, which could be enough to secure direct qualification – although Les Bleues have a game in hand. While Diacre will be in permanent contact with her coaching staff and players via video link, the effect of her absence on her team remains to be seen.
In the other camp, Austria coach Irene Fuhrmann is facing a selection headache. "We haven’t had a list of injured players this long in the women’s national team for years," she explained. "As well as the squad situation, the French will also pose a major challenge for us. We will face them as a team. Our aim is to put these issues out of our minds and become an even closer unit."
The group is likely to be decided by the two meetings between these rivals on 27 October and 27 November. A point for Austria will guarantee them a place in the top two.
27 October, Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli
The race to qualify directly for the 2022 UEFA Women’s EUROs in England from Group B will be won by either Denmark or Italy. The two teams cannot be dislodged from first and second place after seven games, with both still boasting a perfect record on 21 points apiece, although the Scandinavians’ superior goal difference means they top the table. A win over Israel on 21 October and another against the Italians would be enough for the Danes to book their place at the EUROs. The Danish Football Association (DBU) recently announced that it has extended coach Lars Sondergaard's contract until after any potential World Cup campaign in 2023.
"Lars Sondergaard is a top professional," said DBU director of football Peter Moller. "He has managed to develop the team further and has included several new young players in the squad. The national side is playing good attacking football while at the same time delivering strong results. We are confident that with him at the helm, we can achieve our dreams and goals, win as many matches as possible and unite and inspire Denmark."
The two sides last faced each other at the EUROs on 13 July 2013, when Le Azzurre won 2-1 under the watchful eye of then coach Antonio Cabrini to reach the quarter-finals. Could this be a good omen? Although captain Sara Gama is absent from current coach Milena Bertolini’s 28-player squad through injury, Alia Guagni and Bianconere players Cecilia Salvai and Valentina Cernoia return after missing the last match.
Players to watch
Pernille Harder (Denmark)
Pernille Harder was recently named UEFA Women’s Player of the Year for the second time in her career. The Denmark international – who moved to Chelsea after winning the double with VfL Wolfsburg – is the complete striker. She scored 38 goals in 33 games for Die Wolfinnen last season and has found the back of the net six times in EURO qualifying.
Lucie Martinkova (Czech Republic)
Martinkova leads the goalscoring charts in the Czech women’s league after seven matches. Believe it or not, the striker has already netted 20 goals for Sparta Prague, so it is no surprise that national team coach Karel Rada is counting on her sharpshooting in the Czech Republic’s top-of-the-table clash with Spain. "First of all, let me say that it has been a team effort," she said when asked to explain her impressive recent form on the national association’s website.
"We have prepared perfectly, which makes our work on the pitch that much easier. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, there’s strong fitness training; I completed all of pre-season training and haven’t had any injuries for a while. Then there’s the change in position. I’m a striker and feel most at home in that role. I think that’s where I’m most useful for the team."