Duo set to debut as European qualifying resumes

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  • European qualifying for Australia & New Zealand 2023 is set to resume

  • Republic of Ireland and Ukraine finally launch their campaigns

  • England-Northern Ireland and Belarus-Netherlands are highlights

European qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ is back with a bang this week. The forthcoming games, set to be played between 21 and 26 October, will go a long way to showing who the favourites are and which countries have a battle on their hands. The group tables: Group A: Sweden (6 points), Finland (3), Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Georgia (all on 0) Group B: Spain, Scotland (both on 6), Ukraine, Hungary, Faroe Islands (all on 0) Group C: Czech Republic, Netherlands (both on 4), Belarus (3), Iceland, Cyprus (both on 0) Group D: England, Austria, Northern Ireland (all on 6), Latvia, Luxemburg, North Macedonia (all on 0) Group E: Denmark, Russia (both on 6), Montenegro (3), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Malta (both on 1), Azerbaijan (0) Group F: Norway (6), Belgium, Poland (both on 4), Kosovo, Albania (both on 1) Armenia (0) Group G: Switzerland, Italy, Romania (all on 6), Lithuania, Croatia, Moldova (all on 0) Group H: Germany (6), Portugal (4), Turkey (1), Serbia, Israel, Bulgaria (all on 0) Group I: France, Wales (both on 6), Slovenia, Greece (both on 3), Estonia, Kazakhstan (both on 0)

Matches in focus

Finland-Republic of Ireland 26 October 2021 Republic of Ireland should have got their campaign underway last month away to Georgia, but that match ended up being postponed until June 2022. Vera Pauw’s side played a friendly against Australia instead, and their 3-2 home win provided a timely confidence boost ahead of this week’s clashes. First up this Thursday are Sweden, the red-hot favourites to win the group. "Sweden are by far and away the strongest team, everyone knows that,” said Pauw. “They made the final of the Olympics and have mixed it with the best footballers in the world. They have world class players, so we know that this will be the toughest match." Five days later, Ireland go up against current second-placed team Finland in Helsinki – opponents who could well be competing directly with them for the group’s play-off spot.

Belarus-Netherlands 26 October 2021 Anyone who thought that the France 2019 finalists would have an easy ride of it in qualifying this time around should think again. In September, the Netherlands were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Czech Republic in their opening match before following that up with a 2-0 victory in Iceland. After that win, Mark Parsons explained on the federation’s website just how important those three points were. "I think that we made a little bit of progress compared with the last match,” the coach said. “We played with a lot of energy and concentration in certain phases but we also had some weaker moments and we need to iron those out of our game." The Dutch will be looking to maintain their positive momentum in matches against Cyprus and then Belarus, the latter having beaten the former 4-1 when those two sides met earlier. The crucial clash with Czech Republic then comes in the following round of matches on 26 November.

England-Northern Ireland 23 October 2021 The UK derby is the marquee match-up in this group and should have fans on the edge of their seats. It will be the first time that Northern Ireland’s women’s full international team get to play in Wembley Stadium, and they will be coming up against the team that is currently eighth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. While England have already laid down a marker, thrashing both North Macedonia (8-0) and Luxemburg (10-0), Northern Ireland have kept pace with a pair of 4-0 wins over Luxemburg and Latvia, and as such, Sarina Wiegman knows that this match will be no easy task. "Northern Ireland have made real progress over recent years and qualified for the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 earlier this year,” the Three Lionesses coach said. “That recent 4-0 win over Latvia showed how strong and how committed they are to making it through to the World Cup."

Montenegro-Denmark 26 October 2021 Montenegro created quite a surprise in September with a 3-2 win over a Bosnia and Herzegovina side ranked 40 places above them on the global ladder. "The fact is that we were the better team throughout the match and totally deserved the three points," said coach Mirko Maric after the final whistle. That win was followed up by a 5-0 loss to Russia. Now they find themselves up against Azerbaijan, and then five days later Denmark, who lead the way alongside Russia. Will Montenegro be able to cause another upset? "Women’s football in Montenegro had a great time of it last month and on a few other days here and there, but this has created a sense of euphoria that we could well do without at the moment," said Maric. "We’re still the same team as we were a month ago. "The win obviously meant a lot to us but even back then, I said that there were a lot of matches still to go until the end of qualifying and that we’re only really at the beginning."