January was highlighted by two key events - The Best FIFA Football Awards™ and the preliminary draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. Meanwhile USA superstar Alex Morgan headlined a list of major club transfers. *FIFA.com *reviews all the news from a fascinating month for Women’s Football.
*International football *
*Pathway to global stage mapped out
*The road to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France is now taking shape following the preliminary draw for qualifiers in two of the strongest confederations - Europe and Asia. In Europe, the preliminary stage draw was of particular interest for Kosovo, whose female national team will be making their competitive debut, and Andorra, who will be featuring in their maiden Women's World Cup qualifying campaign.
Sixteen nations were split into four groups with five to progress from April’s qualifiers. The top 30-ranked European nations will discover their qualifying path when the main draw is held on 25 April. Eight European nations, in addition to the hosts, will eventually feature on the global stage in 2019.
In Asia, 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup hosts Jordan will enjoy another milestone event when they host next year’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup – the first time it will be held in west Asia. The top three nations from the 2014 edition – Japan, Australia and China PR – are seeded into the tournament along with the hosts. Twenty other nations will joust in April across four venues for the other four tickets to next year’s continental event. Most notably, traditional Asian heavyweights Korea Republic and Korea DPR were drawn together in the preliminary stage, with only one team per group to progress from each pool. Five AFC nations will feature at France 2019.
*The Best of the best *
The newly-named The Best FIFA Football Awards took place in Zurich early in the month, and it was two familiar names who claimed the major honours. USA attacking midfielder Carli Lloyd retained her status as the world’s premier player after being named The Best FIFA Women’s Player for 2016, ahead of Brazil’s Marta and retiring Germany stalwart Melanie Behringer. There was better news for another retiring German, with Silvia Neid adding The Best FIFA Women’s Coach 2016 to a substantial list of career achievements.
*International football *
*India on their way
*India kick-started what promises to be a massive year for football in the world’s second largest nation by winning the SAFF Women’s Championship held in Siliguri, West Bengal. India didn’t have it all their own way finishing second in their group behind Bangladesh on goal difference. They did, however, have revenge in the final defeating their local rivals 3-1 after scores were level at half-time. Nepal forward Sabitra Bhandari who netted 12 times in just four matches, was comfortably the leading scorer. India have now won all four editions of the tournament first held in 2010.
*Euro contenders shape up *
The 2017 UEFA Women’s EURO is on the horizon and three of the continent’s leading contenders took the opportunity to escape northern Europe’s mid-winter conditions, and hone their skills with a mini-tournament in La Manga, Spain. One-goal wins over Sweden and England saw Norway claim bragging rights after three tight matches.
France saw off South Africa 2-0 in Reunion thanks to goals from Griedge Mbock Bathy. However, it was a costly week for *Les Bleues *with superstar youngster Delphine Cascarino suffering a serious knee injury.
Meanwhile, it was a big month for EURO hosts Netherlands. The *Oranje Leeuwinnen *have a new head coach after former assistant coach and former long-serving international Sarina Wiegman assumed the reins on a two-year contract.
*Fond farewell *
One of the icons of women’s football - Kelly Smith – has hung up her boots. Smith exited the game as England’s all-time top goalscorer with 46 goals in 117 appearances, and was also part of the Great Britain squad at the London 2012 Olympics.
*Club football *
Morgan headlines month of moves
France was the hub of big moves during the month, and there was none bigger than the loan signing of USA forward Alex Morgan who debuted for Lyon during the month, following her loan from Orlando Pride. Making a similar leap across the Atlantic was local heroine Amandine Henry who joined Paris Saint-Germain on loan from Portland Thorns. Still in France, Montpellier made a statement of intent with the signing of prolific Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius and Belgium midfield ace Janice Cayman. Some of the other notable moves during the month include former USA midfielder Heather O’Reilly to Arsenal, and versatile Stars and Stripes’ forward Crystal Dunn to Chelsea.
*New face Stateside *
There will be a new name in USA’s NWSL this season after reigning champions Western New York Flash relocated south to become North Carolina Courage. The 2017 season will remain at ten teams, though there will be 24 matches during the regular season for the first time since 2014.