- Women's international football returns with qualifiers for EURO 2022
- Heavyweights such as Germany and Sweden facing crunch fixtures
- Alexia Putellas and Jill Roord – two players to keep a close eye on
First it was the men’s game with the UEFA Nations League; now it is the turn of women’s football to emerge from hibernation. Six months after the last competitive action, which included the #SheBelievesCup, Algarve Cup and Asian qualifiers for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, international women's football returns to Europe with the resumption of qualifying for the continent’s flagship event, the UEFA Women’s EURO, which has been moved from 2021 to 2022 because of COVID-19.
Which are the tightest groups and the decisive games to watch for? Who are some of the key players to keep an eye on? To make sure you are up to date on the qualifiers and miss none of the action, we are assessing the current state of play and looking ahead to some standout fixtures from the coming days.
🤔 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.
⚔️ Key games:
Of the 28 fixtures planned for this month’s double header, three in particular could be decisive:
Germany-Republic of Ireland
19 September, Stadion Essen, Essen
At first glance, it is surprising not to see Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side leading Group I, especially as they have a perfect record thus far and a spectacular goal difference of 31 for and 0 against. But the Irish, as well as having played a game more, have also been very consistent, only dropping points in their draw with Greece.
Could they spring another surprise and put the brakes on the German juggernaut? Even taking a point home would be an historic achievement for Ireland, who have never managed to avoid defeat against Die Nationalelf.
22 September, Laugardalsvollur, Reykjavik
Sweden and Iceland are both on nine points in Group F, with the former in top spot by virtue of goal difference. But all that could change in the coming week, particularly after the pair square off.
The Swedes, currently fifth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking and bronze medallists at France 2019, will start as favourites. In fact, Iceland are still searching for their maiden win over the Blagult (their best result in seven previous attempts was a solitary draw). But Iceland are a much improved side and have Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, their star player, bringing quality in midfield and Elin Jensen in fine form up front (four goals in three games).
22 September, Arena Thun, Thun
There would need to be some major upsets in Group H for anyone other than Belgium and Switzerland to take the top two spots. Both have won all four of their matches, with only the Belgians’ marginally superior goalscoring separating the sides. All of which makes it hard to predict what might happen next Tuesday.
If history is anything to go by, the pair could well end up sharing the spoils – as happened in five of their previous eight meetings. Both sides will therefore be looking to their most in-form players to sway the tie. Prior to the cessation of international football, centre-back Tine De Caigny had racked up seven goals for the Red Flames, while for the Helvetians, Barcelona ace Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic and Ramona Bachmann, now of Paris Saint-Germain, account for more than half their qualifying goals.
🔍 Players to watch:
The last time fans saw her in the red of Spain, she was picking up the MVP award at the SheBelieves Cup. Before the pandemic-induced stoppage, the midfielder was enjoying some of the best form of her career. In the words of national team coach Jorge Vilda: “every time she got the ball, the fans knew something was about to happen.” La Roja, who often find themselves in congested battles against rivals keen to close them down, a tactic Moldova could well employ next Saturday, will need her quality with the final ball more than ever.
Spain are second in Group D, level on points with Poland but with an inferior goal difference.
It would be hard to find a player in a richer vein of form right now than the young Dutch midfielder. She grabbed the headlines in Arsenal’s opening two games in this season’s English Women’s Super League with some truly impressive stats: 180 minutes played, 10 shots on target and six goals scored.
The reigning European champions, who comfortably lead Group A, can take a massive step towards securing a berth in England if they can prevail this Friday away to Russia, who have played two games fewer but sit nine points behind the Dutch.