Netherlands and Switzerland prevail in play-off semis
The Netherlands and Switzerland to contest the play-off final
EURO champions beat Denmark, Swiss edge past Belgium on away goals
Two-legged play-off in November to decide the last European ticket to France 2019
The play-off finalists in European zone qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ have now been determined, with the Netherlands and Switzerland both keeping alive their hopes of reaching next year's global showdown.
The duo went into the play-off semi-finals alongside Denmark and Belgium, and after emerging victorious from their absorbing ties, are now set to battle for the continent's coveted last remaining ticket to the tournament.
Belgium 3-3 Switzerland (aggregate, Switzerland win on away goals)
First leg (5 October): 2-2 Goals: 1-0 Janice Cayman (5'), 1-1 Alisha Lehmann (55'), 2-1 Laura De Neve (60'), 2-2 Alisha Lehmann (87') Second leg (9 October): 1-1 Goals: 1-0 Geraldine Reuteler (23'), 1-1 Tine de Caigny (77')
If one thing can be said for certain about the play-off first leg then it is that Switzerland coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg had the magic touch. Her team fell behind twice but fought back on each occasion with goals from Alisha Lehmann, who only came on as a half-time substitute. Those two away goals put the Swiss in the driving seat going into the return fixture, leaving them needing just a 0-0 or 1-1 draw to progress to the final.
After the first leg, Switzerland midfielder Lia Walti said she was hoping her team would score at home in order to "avoid it being a nail-biter right until the very end". The 25-year-old got her wish in the 23rd minute of the match in Biel when Geraldine Reuteler's first-time strike put the hosts in front. There was to be a nervy finale nevertheless, as Tine De Caigny equalised in the final quarter of an hour, but Ives Serneels' troops were unable to add to the scoreline again before the final whistle.
Netherlands 4-1 Denmark (aggregate)
First leg (5 October): 2-0 Goals: 1-0 Lineth Beerensteyn (21'), 2-0 Shanice van de Sanden (42') Second leg (9 October): 1-2 Goals: 1-0 Nadia Nadim (5' pen), 1-1 Beerensteyn (7'), 1-2 Beerensteyn (90+2')
Play-off ties appear to suit the Netherlands down to the ground. Ahead of the last Women's World Cup in 2015, the Orange Lionesses grabbed the last European ticket to the finals in Canada thanks to victories over Scotland and Italy.
After starting with a 4-1 aggregate win over Scotland back then, the reigning European champions began just as feverishly this time, beating Denmark by the same scoreline. Sarina Wiegman's side controlled proceedings on home turf at the Rat Verlegh Stadium in Breda last Friday, the comfortable 2-0 triumph representing their eighth consecutive win against the Scandinavians.
With that weight of history and a two-goal cushion behind them, the Netherlands headed into the return leg full of confidence. However, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock when Nadia Nadim scored from the penalty spot after Pernille Harder was fouled by Dominique Janssen. The Danes' lead was short-lived though, as Lineth Beerensteyn headed in the equaliser just two minutes later before sealing a 2-1 victory for the visitors in stoppage time.
It was another bitter disappointment for Denmark, who also lost out in the play-offs for the 2003 and 2011 finals. The last time they secured automatic qualification for a Women's World Cup was in 2007.