FIFA.com looks back at a massive month in women’s football both on the international and club scene. Headlining is huge off-field interest in Europe and North America, as well as international action across three continents as teams continue to build for the fast-approaching Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
International football *Big two book ticket to European party
*Holders Germany and France both secured early qualification for next year’s UEFA Women’s EURO in style. France stretched their record run of victories in European qualifiers to 39 with a 4-0 win over Ukraine, having not dropped a point or conceded a goal in reaching Netherlands 2017. Germany also boasts a perfect record in qualifying, following 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Turkey and Croatia respectively.
Meanwhile, Spain and Scotland also have 100 per cent records, and both are now assured of at least a play-off berth for next year’s newly-expanded 16-team event. Switzerland are on the cusp of doing likewise and, along with Sweden and Iceland, also kept up perfect records in April's qualifiers. England, however, needed a late Jill Scott goal to earn a 1-1 home draw against group leaders Belgium, who are well placed for their maiden qualification. Also on target for a debut appearance are the Swiss, who sit six points clear of Italy thanks to a 2-1 win over their rivals.
*Pathway to gold *
As of this week there are less than 100 days to go until the Rio 2016 kicks-off. And the appetite was whetted in mid-April as the draw produced three exciting and well-balanced groups. Hosts Brazil have been drawn against China PR, Sweden and South Africa. European heavyweights Germany must face up to Canada, Australia and debutants Zimbabwe. Meanwhile reigning champions USA will meet New Zealand, France and Colombia.
*Building for Rio charge
*World champions USA, who are chasing an unprecedented fourth successive gold medal in Rio, are well placed for success if recent results are any gauge. USA routed Colombia – whom provided a tough opponent at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ – with one-sided 7-0 and 3-0 victories. North American rivals Canada defeated Netherlands 2-1, while another Rio-bound side, New Zealand, lost 1-0 to the Dutch.
*Africa’s eight contenders confirmed
*The field for the 2016 edition of the CAF Africa Women Cup of Nations has been completed following the conclusion of qualifiers in April. Holders Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya confirmed their places on the final matchday, joining Egypt, Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe, who had all qualified earlier for the eight-team field in Cameroon. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Kenya who defeated Algeria, to reach their maiden edition of the biennial championship
*Unhappy month for star duo *
It was an indifferent month for the two most recent FIFA Women's World Player of the Year winners. Germany’s Nadine Kessler was forced to retire at the age of 28 due to persistent knee problems, with the midfielder playing a pivotal role in helping Wolfsburg to both the domestic and European titles in 2014. USA superstar Carli Lloyd, who won the coveted prize in January, limped off for Houston Dash last weekend leaving Stars and Stripes’ fans with cause for concern ahead of Rio 2016. Subsequent tests revealed a sprained knee ligament and an expected absence of three to six weeks.
Club football *Fans on the march Stateside
*It is still early days in the fourth season of USA’s NWSL, but already the massive increase in attendances has become a recurring narrative. Portland Thorns attracted just over 16,000 to help the league average to nearly 8,000 for the opening round, while new club Orlando Pride almost tripled the league standard for their first-ever home game last weekend. On the field, only last season’s surprise packet Washington Spirit have maintained a perfect record after two rounds.
*Stunning semis *
The UEFA Women’s Champions League finalists will not be 100 per cent confirmed for a few days yet, but already their identity seems assured following remarkable first-leg matches. French superclub Lyon, currently on track for a tenth league title, routed ambitious compatriots Paris Saint-Germain with a stunning 7-0 win. And they seem set to reprise their 2013 meeting with Wolfsburg in the final, after the Germans dispensed with fellow Frauen Bundesliga side 1.FFC Frankfurt 4-0 in their opening tie.
*Development *April proved to be another massive month for Women’s Football development around the globe. Headlining were a consultancy programme in Puerto Rico, and a coaching course in Barbados, both under the expert guidance of former Mexico international Andrea Rodebaugh. There were also Live Your Goals events in Costa Rica, Belgium, Moldova, Northern Ireland, Wales, Palestine, Bhutan and Spain.
The stat 20,000 – Two attendances in excess of 20,000 on either side of the Atlantic last weekend provided yet more compelling evidence of inexorable growth in Women’s Football. New club Orlando Pride drew a NWSL high 23,403 on Saturday, while the following day a French record 22,050 witnessed Lyon stun the visiting Paris Saint-Germain.
The quote *“I think the crowd we had today has taken the league to a new level, it just wasn’t about the numbers in the crowd, but the passion of the crowd and how they supported the team.”
*Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni