The countdown has now well and truly begun. The final few berths for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ have now been filled, and on Saturday the world will finally learn which teams will be pitted against each other in the group stage. The Final Draw will take place in Ottawa at 12:00 local time, followed eagerly by the 24 national coaches who spent so long working on their successful qualifying campaigns. To mark the occasion, FIFA.com brings you the ten greatest moments on the road to Canada.
*Nadeshiko* break continental curse
*In Asia, the reigning world champions sent out a clear signal by winning the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2014. As incredible as it may seem, Japan had never before lifted their continental trophy in 13 previous attempts, but the *Nadeshiko finally put that right by defeating Australia in this year’s final.
Age offers no protection from folly, as William Shakespeare knew well. If you amend this saying to suit Vivianne Miedema, it might then read: “…nor does youth offer protection from the desire to score”. Her name is closely associated with the Netherlands’ recent success. At just 18, the forward not only scored all of the Oranje Leeuwinnen’s three goals in the play-off final against Italy but also topped the goalscoring list with 16 strikes.
*It's only over when the whistle blows*
With 30 minutes played, Ecuador already trailed Argentina 2-0 at the Copa America Femenina and had seemingly blown their chance of reaching the World Cup finals. But anyone who thought the match was done and dusted did not envisage the impact Carina Caicedo, Ingrid Rodriguez and Giannina Lattanzio would have on proceedings. Thanks to their goals, La Tricolor fought their way back into the game, ultimately winning 3-2 to secure third place. Their subsequent intercontinental play-off against fourth-placed CONCACAF side Trinidad and Tobago was similarly action-packed but was only resolved in the dying seconds of the second leg, when Monica Quinteros scored in stoppage time to spark Ecuadorian celebrations.
Fans awaiting next year’s tournament will not only be eager to see 24 teams contest the title but also to welcome several competition debutants. Ecuador, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Thailand all successfully navigated qualifying to reach football’s biggest stage for the first time.
While Europe’s favourites quickly wrapped up group wins in their qualifying campaigns, other sections witnessed some fascinating duels. In Group 2, Spain and Italy were locked in a head-to-head race from which La Roja emerged victorious. Spain prevailed in an encounter between the pair to finish the qualifying phase with three extra points. It was a similar story between Norway and the Netherlands in Group 5, with the sides ultimately separated by just two points.
*300 and counting*
US international Christie Rampone won her 300th international cap in the semi-final of the CONCACAF Championship against Mexico, making her only the second player to reach this landmark after compatriot and former team-mate Kristine Lilly. The three-time Olympic champion shows no sign of hanging up her boots, and next summer’s showpiece in Canada will be her fifth appearance at women football’s premier event.
*The joy of extra time
*It is one of the most wonderful feelings in the game: to score the winner in stoppage time after defeat seemed certain and spirits had been crushed. Mexico’s coach and fans must have endured something similar recently after El Tri were forced into a long and nervous wait for their World Cup ticket. The Mexicans began their CONCACAF Championship campaign with a defeat and had to fight it out with Trinidad and Tobago for the last direct qualifying place after being beaten by the Stars and Stripes in the semi-final. Although the match was delicately poised, defeat still seemed likely in the 78th minute. But the Mexicans netted an equaliser before an extra-time brace from Veronica Charlyn Corral secured victory for Mexico.
*The final hurdle
*Côte d’Ivoire went into their third-place play-off against South Africa knowing they needed a win to qualify – a feat they duly achieved. Although their opponents generally dominated the encounter, they could not find the target, paving the way for Ida Guehai to score the winner for the West African side five minutes from time.
*Germany, France, England and Sweden all secured their place in Canada in style. Each team posted ten wins from ten qualifying games, scoring a mammoth 200 goals between them while conceding only nine.
*While the four sides listed above only occasionally let their guard down, New Zealand’s goalkeeper never once had to pick the ball out of the net during the Oceanic qualifying tournament. The Football Ferns last conceded a goal in 2007, against Tonga, during qualification for that year's FIFA Women’s World Cup.