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Women's Football

Stars shine as women's internationals return

(FIFA.com)
España 8-1 Suiza

On the surface, the next FIFA Women's World Cup™, in 2019, seems a long way off. However, time flies in the football world and the tournament is already looming large on the horizon, especially after the road to France was initiated by the draws for the first round of European and Asian qualifying, held on 19 and 21 January respectively. Accordingly, the global extravaganza was the main focus in several national-team camps ahead of the friendlies contested in recent days. FIFA.com recaps the action.

France do not have to concern themselves with the qualification process for the big event in two years' time, as they are guaranteed a spot as hosts. On the other hand, Les Bleues have plenty to think about at present, namely the upcoming UEFA Women's EURO, for which their opening match of 2017 against *South Africa *served as an early warm-up fixture. Griedge Mbock Bathy stole the show in an encounter staged on the island of La Reunion, bagging her first senior international goal and then doubling up soon afterwards. The Lyon defender latched on to two set-pieces in the space of 25 minutes – Sandie Toletti's ninth-minute free-kick and a poorly cleared corner on 35 minutes – to open her France account in style and secure a 2-0 win over opponents who offered plenty by way of spirit but lacked a cutting edge.

Beaten 1-0 by the French in their final outing of 2016, *Spain *were expecting another stern test to get the ball rolling in 2017, with *Switzerland *– one of the revelations of the 2015 Women's World Cup and a country where the women's game is booming – coming to town. In the event, the Swiss floundered in rainy conditions in Valencia, going down 8-1. Jenni Hermoso opened the floodgates by notching the first two goals, while Olga Garcia also chalked up a brace in the second half. Vero Boquete was also in majestic form, scoring once and claiming two assists.

Elsewhere in Spain, in La Manga to be precise, Norway *put paid to *England's ten-match unbeaten run in another showdown between teams that will be hoping to challenge at the EURO. A solitary goal from Ada Hegerberg – who nodded home a free-kick delivered by her older sister Andrine – was enough to stretch the Scandinavians' own undefeated streak to ten games. At the tender age of 21, the forward has now hit 35 goals in 55 international appearances, putting her eighth in her country's all-time scoring charts.

The Three Lionesses have the chance to bounce back right away, as they entertain another Scandinavian side – Sweden –  later today in a final dress rehearsal ahead of what promises to be a hotly contested SheBelieves Cup, in which meetings with Germany, USA and France await. As for the Swedes, they succumbed 2-1 at the hands of the Norwegians in their previous fixture, with Sofia Jakobsson giving Pia Sundhage's charges the lead before strikes from Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland and Kristine Minde turned the scoreline around.

Last but not least, EURO hosts the Netherlands *strolled past *Romania *7-1, while *Denmark *and *Scotland, who will also feature in the continental football festival to take place on Dutch shores this July and August, could not be separated and played out two successive draws (2-2 and 1-1).

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