Qualification for Australia & New Zealand 2023™ got underway in Europe
Several teams kicked off their campaigns with high-scoring victories
More exciting tussles await
The road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ is long and arduous. European qualifying for the biggest tournament in international women’s football began in September with a record 51 contenders divided into six groups of six and three groups of five teams.
While Sweden were not at their best as they beat Slovakia 1-0 in their opening match, they went on to record a comfortable 4-0 win over Georgia. Finland also faced Slovakia in their first qualifier, defeating them 2-1 to sit second behind the Swedes in Group A. Republic of Ireland are still waiting to launch their World Cup qualifying campaign after their match against Georgia was postponed due to the pandemic.
Spain’s results in their first two qualifiers suggest that they could deliver some spectacular performances at Australia & New Zealand 2023. They are sitting pretty in top spot above Scotland after two games, having scored 17 goals while conceding none. However, Ukraine, who are currently ranked 31st in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, have yet to begin their campaign, which kicks off in October.
Czech Republic look like being the Netherlands’ fiercest rivals in the hunt for a World Cup spot. After battling to a 1-1 draw against the France 2019 runners-up, the team ranked 27th in the World Ranking recorded a resounding 8-0 win over Cyprus to establish a foothold at the top of the table. They are being closely followed by the OranjeLeeuwinnen, who kept pace with the Czechs by beating Iceland 2-0. Belarus are currently third after defeating debutants Cyprus 4-1.
Excitement is already mounting in this group, with Austria, England and Northern Ireland all tied on the same number of points after winning their first two fixtures. The Lionesses are top of the pile thanks to their superior goal difference, with coach Sarina Wiegman’s tenure off to a flying start after 8-0 and 10-0 victories over North Macedonia and Luxembourg respectively.
After beating Malta 7-0 and Azerbaijan 8-0, Denmark have not only shown impressive attacking intent but have also defended exceptionally well. Russia are currently in second place thanks to their wins over Azerbaijan (2-0) and Montenegro (5-0), who were able to wrestle three points off Bosnia and Herzegovina in their opening match. It will be exciting to see how the other teams in the group fare when they start their campaigns in October.
210921 Guro Reiten, Frida Maanum, Amalie Vevle Eikeland and Caroline Graham Hansen of Norway celebrate after the 0-1 goal during the FIFA Women s World Cup Qualifier football match between Kosovo and Norway on September 21, 2021 in Pristina. Photo: Vegard Wivestad Grott / BILDBYRAN / kod VG / VG0172
Lea Schueller (L) of Germany in action with Dejana Stefanovic of Serbia during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier group H match between Germany and Serbia at Stadion an der Gellertstrasse on September 21, 2021 in Chemnitz , Germany.
Norway are leading the way in Group F after emphatic victories over Armenia and Kosovo in which they scored a combined 13 goals without conceding. The picture is otherwise fairly restrained compared to other groups, with Belgium held to a 1-1 draw by Poland before sweeping Albania aside 7-0 in their second match. Poland, on the other hand, found it difficult to break down Armenia and only took three points thanks to a goal from Weronika Zawistowska.
As expected, the favourites in this group opened their accounts with dominant performances. Italy collected six points with wins over Moldova (3-0) and Croatia (5-0), while Switzerland also made light work of their first two qualifiers by beating Lithuania 4-1 and Moldova 6-0. Most remarkably of all, the Swiss found the back of the Moldovan net four times in just 285 seconds shortly before half-time. Nils Nielsen’s side now lead the group on the same number of points as Italy.
After drawing 1-1 with Turkey in their opening match, Portugal were not going to let anything get in the way of victory in their next qualifier, as they comfortably dispatched Israel 4-0. As expected, two-time world champions Germany are currently top of the group. Despite recording an emphatic 7-0 win over Bulgaria in their first match, coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side got off to a difficult start against Serbia and were 1-0 down at half-time. Yet Die Nationalelf turned the match around after the break, with Lea Schuller scoring four goals in an impressive performance to steer her team to a 5-1 win.
Greece urgently needed to beat Kazakhstan after beginning their campaign with a demoralising 10-0 defeat at the hands of France, yet this was easier said than done as they laboured to a 3-2 win. Les Bleues also encountered difficulties in their match against Slovenia, only justifying their positions as favourites when Amel Majri converted a penalty in added time to eke out a 3-2 win. These results will have been music to the ears of Wales. The team ranked 34th in the world currently sit second in the group after sweeping Kazakhstan aside 6-0 before grinding out a narrow 1-0 win over Estonia.