The FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ will feature 24 teams, eight more than previous women’s world finals. The expansion of the tournament has made qualification that little bit easier for the game’s traditional heavyweights in Europe, while also allowing some of the continent’s rising forces to break new ground.
The UEFA qualifying competition has just come to an end, with regular world finalists Germany, England, France, Norway and Sweden all winning their groups to advance to Canada 2015, while Spain and Switzerland did likewise to book their maiden appearances in the finals.
Europe’s one remaining qualification slot will be decided in October and November, in a play-off competition featuring the four best group runners-up. FIFA.com reviews the European preliminaries.
*Big guns make no mistake
*Germany, England, France and Sweden did not put a foot wrong in their respective groups, each winning all ten of their matches to qualify for next year’s world finals in the best possible style. Norway nearly matched this quartet, winning their first nine games in a row before losing the tenth, albeit with qualification already safely in the bag.
Despite the retirements of Birgit Prinz and Inka Grings, it came as no surprise to see Germany cruise through, having already marked out their future by winning UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014. Though largely imperious in their section, the Germans were made to work on their visit to Republic of Ireland. Trailing 1-0 at the break, the runaway group winners needed an injury-time goal to clinch a hard-fought 3-2 win.
England and France also made successful transitions following the departures of their respective longstanding coaches, Hope Powell and Bruno Bini. With Mark Sampson and Philippe Bergeroo now at the helm, the English and French sealed their places in Canada with ease, conceding just one and three goals respectively in their ten games.
1995 world champions Norway maintained their record of having qualified for every women’s world finals. The credit for that should go to coach Even Pellerud and his astute policy of aligning rising stars, such as the Hegerberg sisters Ada and Andrine, and technically gifted goalscorer Caroline Hansen, with the experienced trio of Solveig Gulbrandsen, Ingrid Hjelmseth and Ingvild Stensland.
Sweden also recorded ten victories out of ten, and needed to in order to win Group 4 from a promising Scotland side that put pressure on the Scandinavians right through to the last round of games.
*Rising powers impress
*While Europe’s big teams all enjoyed flawless campaigns, with the exception of the near-perfect Norwegians, Spain and Switzerland were almost as impressive in posting nine wins and a draw apiece in their ten outings. In doing so, the Spanish held off a determined challenge from Italy, while the Swiss got the better of two battle-hardened sides in the shape of Iceland and Denmark.
Coach by Germany’s Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the Swiss also earned the distinction of becoming the first European side to book their ticket for Canada 2015.
“In qualifying we’ve gained the respect of international women’s football,” said Voss-Tecklenburg after her side had erased the memory of their play-off defeat four years ago. “Nobody thought we’d qualify so easily. We wanted to achieve some big things. That was our dream and we’ve worked hard to make it a reality.”
Having long struggled to get themselves noticed, La Roja continued their emergence by winning through to the women’s world finals for the very first time, a landmark achievement that comes hard on the heels of the runners-up spot they achieved at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica earlier this year.
The autumn play-offs will see Netherlands, Scotland, Ukraine and Italy fight it out for the remaining qualifying place from Europe. The quartet finished the group phase as the four best second-placed sides, on the basis of their results against the teams finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their sections.
The stars of the qualifiers
*The Dutch will have high hopes of qualifying from the play-offs, especially with the leading goalscorer in the preliminaries in their ranks. *Viviane Miedema found the back of the net 13 times in the 623 minutes she spent on the pitch. France’s Gaetane Thiney, England’s Eniola Aluko and Scotland’s Jane Ross all matched her tally but were in action for 715, 741 and 881 minutes respectively.
Though blessed with a natural instinct for goalscoring, Thiney had the sublime passing skills of Louisa Necib backing her up. The Lyon midfielder served up 16 assists in all, three more than her closest challenger Switzerland’s Lara Dickenmann. For their part, Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsan and Fatmire Alushi contributed a respective 12 and 11 assists in their side’s bumper haul of 62 goals.
Meanwhile, England, Sweden and Switzerland shared the defensive spoils, conceding a solitary goal apiece in their groups.
What they said
*“Though I’ve been fortunate enough to take several teams through to the finals, the feeling you get when you qualify is always the same: fantastic,” *Norway coach Even Pellerud*.*
*Have your say
*Which European team will go furthest at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015?