Tomorrow, a full two years, three months and two days before the tournament’s opening match, the road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ will begin in earnest. The starting points will be the village of Ta’ Qali in Malta and Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, which will host the first qualifying matches in the fight for places at this eagerly anticipated women’s showpiece.
UEFA is the first confederation to get off the starting blocks in a preliminary competition that will span 18 months, and include a record number of teams. In Europe alone, an all-time high number of 46 teams will do battle for the continent’s eight berths at Canada 2015, and the usual names will be accompanied by a few new and unfamiliar faces.
Tomorrow’s matches, indeed, will see Montenegro play their first competitive match in senior women’s football, while Albania are taking part in their first women’s event at any level. Up against them in a mini-tournament contested by Europe’s eight lowest-ranked sides will be the hosts, Malta and Lithuania, as well as the Faroe Islands, Georgia, Latvia and Luxembourg. The two teams which triumph in Ta’ Qali and Vilnius will then advance to join the remaining 38 UEFA entrants in the main group stage, the draw for which will be made on 16 April.
Group 1: Albania, Luxembourg, Malta, Latvia
*Group 2: *Georgia, Faroe Islands, Lithuania, Montenegro
For the moment, Europe’s big guns are focused almost entirely on the upcoming UEFA Women’s EURO in Sweden. Already, however, eyes are turning towards the challenge of qualifying for the biggest stage of all, with Finland’s Linda Sallstrom telling FIFA.com only last month of her “big dream” of competing at the world finals. “Canada 2015 is important to us,” echoed her team-mate Sanna Talonen. “We’ve never reached a World Cup before and it’s on our minds.”
This same ambition is, of course, shared by female players across the world, and other confederations will soon be following UEFA in determining their participants for Canada 2015. In Asia, 16 teams will fight it out in the preliminary round of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup from 21 May until 9 June, with the top four advancing to join the continent’s highest-ranked nations at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2014 the following May. Oceania, meanwhile, will start and conclude their preliminary campaign this September, when New Zealand hosts an event that will determine which nation will represent the continent in two years’ time.
The only team currently guaranteed a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup are the tournament hosts, Canada. With no qualifiers to negotiate, John Herdman’s side are instead taking part in a series of demanding friendlies, with their itinerary this week including trips to face European heavyweights France and England on 4 and 7 April respectively.
Don’t forget that you can stay up-to-date with all the latest qualifying news right here on FIFA.com. You can also find out more about Canada 2015 and the various preliminary competitions by clicking the links on the right.