Women’s Euro 2021 Qualifying: August-September 2019 Group Stage Window Recap

UEFA Women's Euro logoQualifying for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2021, which will be hosted by England, got underway last week, as 30 matches were played over six days.  None of the top favorites stumbled, as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Iceland, and Russia each earned two wins out of two matches, while other notable teams, such as Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria each won their only qualifying match of the window.

Match details and statistics for each qualifying match are available on UEFA’s website.

Qualifying Format Summary: 

  • Nine groups of five or six teams
  • Standard mini-league round-robin format
  • All nine Group Winners qualify for the final tournament
  • The Top Three Runners-Up also qualify for the final tournament
  • To rank the nine Runners-Up, for Groups A and B, which have six teams, the results against the worst team in each of those groups are dropped
  • The remaining six Runners-Up are paired into home-and-home play-offs
  • The three winners of those play-offs qualify for the final tournament
  • Host England is auto-qualified

GROUP A
Teams:  Estonia, Kosovo, Netherlands, Russia, Slovenia, Turkey
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Netherlands, (2) Russia

Friday, August 30th
Slovenia 0, Russia 1
Kosovo 2, Turkey 0 (upset)
Estonia 0, Netherlands 7

Tuesday, September 3rd
Slovenia 5, Kosovo 0
Russia 4, Estonia 0
Netherlands 3, Turkey 0

The Netherlands scored ten goals over their two matches, including braces by Vivianne Miedema and Sherida Spitse (both goals on direct free kicks) against Estonia, while Spitse added another goal against Turkey from the penalty spot.  For the second match, the Netherlands were without Miedema due to a hamstring injury that happened during the Estonia match (nu.nl news article). (Official Highlights of both matches)

Russia earned an important away win at Slovenia, who are likely to be their closest rival for the runner-up spot in the group.

Kosovo’s 2:0 win over Turkey was the upset of the week, as Turkey is ranked 62nd while Kosovo is down at 126th in the latest FIFA Women’s Rankings.

What’s Next:  In October, the Netherlands travels to Slovenia and then hosts Russia in their second match.  In Russia’s first match, they travel to Kosovo.  After October, the Netherlands have two matches in November, while Russia is off until April 2020.


GROUP B
Teams:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Georgia, Israel, Italy, Malta
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Italy, (2) Denmark (toss-up)

Thursday, August 29th
Israel 2, Italy 3
Denmark 8, Malta 0

Friday, August 30th
Bosnia and Herzegovina 7, Georgia 1

Tuesday, September 3rd
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2, Malta 0
Israel 0, Denmark 3
Georgia 0, Italy 1

Denmark is sailing smoothly, with two shut-out wins, including an 0:3 away win at Israel, who troubled Italy just a few days earlier.  Against Italy, the home team Israel scored first, but Cristiana Girelli equalized in first-half stoppage time.  Elisa Bartoli and Valentina Giacinta added goals in the second half, but the match tightened in the first minute of stoppage time when Marian Awad scored.

In Italy’s away win at Georgia, the lone goal was put in by Girelli on a rebound of her saved penalty kick.

For Denmark, Pernille Harder scored a goal in each of their two matches, while Nadia Nadim got on the scoresheet against Israel.

What’s Next:  In October, both Denmark and Italy will host Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Two wins by the home teams in those matches will put Denmark and Italy in a two-team lead pack for group supremacy.  Italy will also travel to Malta, while Denmark will also travel to Georgia.  In November, Italy will host both Georgia and Malta, while Denmark will host Georgia.


GROUP C
Teams:  Belarus, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Wales
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Norway, (2) Wales

Thursday, August 29th
Faroe Islands 0, Wales 6

Friday, August 30th
Northern Ireland 0, Norway 6

Tuesday, September 3rd
Belarus 6, Faroe Islands 0
Wales 2, Northern Ireland 2

Wales got off to a good start, with a 6-nil away win in very rainy conditions at the Faroe Islands, with half of those goals scored by Natasha Harding.  The match against Northern Ireland was looking to be a come-from-behind win for Wales, but the away team equalized on the last play of the match, a long free kick from the left flank that was initially parried by the Welsh goalkeeper, Laura O’Sullivan, before Ashley Hutton, on the night of her 100th cap, headed the ball into goal. (Highlights)

A few days earlier, Norway handily defeated Northern Ireland via a 6-nil away win of their own, with three of those goals coming by way of a Caroline Graham Hansen hat trick.  Norway capped their international window off with a 2:1 come-from-behind home win against England. (Highlights of both matches)

What’s Next:  In October, Norway and Wales both travel to Belarus, while Norway also has an away match at the Faroe Islands.  In November, Norway and Wales both face Northern Ireland in their only matches of the November window.


GROUP D
Teams:  Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland, Spain
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Spain, (2) Czech Republic or Poland (toss-up)

Friday, August 30th
Moldova 0, Czech Republic 7

Rescheduled
Czech Republic vs. Poland

The most notable match of the group so far is the one not played, between the Czech Republic and Poland, as the Czech squad suffered was stricken with illness (“food poisoning” is the only specific explanation found).  (Source article:  zeny.fotbal.cz)  The match was silently rescheduled to September 17, 2020 on the UEFA website.  This now means that both Czech-Poland match-ups will now be played in the final qualifying window, a year from now, in September 2020.  The two teams are separated by just four points in the current FIFA Women’s Rankings and are likely vying for the runner-up spot, as Spain should be a lock for group winner.

What’s Next:  In October, Spain kicks off their qualifying campaign, with a home match against Azerbaijan and an away match at the Czech Republic.  Poland is off until November, when they face Spain in the Iberians’ only match of that window.


GROUP E
Teams:  Albania, Cyprus, Finland, Portugal, Scotland
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Scotland, (2) Finland or Portugal (toss-up)

Friday, August 30th
Scotland 8, Cyprus 0

Monday, September 2nd
Albania 0, Finland 3

Scotland won their first match easily, thanks to a five-goal hat-trick by Kim Little, while Finland had a solid start via a 3-nil away win at Albania. (Highlights)

What’s Next:  In October, Portugal play their first match, at Albania, while Finland then hosts Albania.  Scotland does not play until November when they travel to Albania.  Meanwhile Finland plays twice in November, hosting Cyprus, then traveling to Portugal for a juicy toss-up match.


GROUP F
Teams:  Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Sweden, (2) Iceland)

Thursday, August 29th
Iceland 4, Hungary 1

Monday, September 2nd
Iceland 1, Slovakia 0

Tuesday, September 3rd
Latvia 1, Sweden 4

Although their wins could have been more convincing, Iceland are in fine shape with two home wins.  Against Hungary, Iceland scored in the first ten minutes, but Hungary equalized minutes before half-time.  In the second half, Iceland scored three unanswered goals, including an insurance goal scored by Dagny Brynjarsdóttir.  Against Slovakia, Iceland’s 65th minute goal was enough to muster victory.

Sweden got off to a slow start, conceding a 14th minute goal to the home team, before scoring four unanswered goals via Linda Sembrant (32′), Amanda Ilestedt (50′), Carolina Seger (50′ PK), and Kosovare Asllani (68′), who scored directly from a corner kick.  The other non-PK goals also came via corner kicks. (Highlights)

What’s Next:  In October, Sweden travels to Hungary and hosts Slovakia, while Iceland only has an away match at Latvia.  So, at the end of that window, both teams will have played three matches, all against each of the bottom three teams in the group.  Those are Sweden’s and Iceland’s last group matches until April 2020.


GROUP G
Teams:  Austria, France, Kazakhstan, North Macedonia, Serbia
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) France, (2) Austria

Sunday, September 1st
Kazakhstan 0, Serbia 3

Tuesday, September 3rd
Austria 3, North Macedonia 0

Austria earned a solid three points with a three-goal home win against North Macedonia, (formerly known as “FYROM” or “FYR Macedonia” until February 2019 – Wikipedia).  (Highlights)

France had the qualifying window off, so they elected to host Spain in a friendly, which they won 2:0.  (Highlights)

What’s Next:  In October, France begins their campaign with a distant away match at Kazakhstan, while Austria travels to Serbia.  In November, France hosts Serbia, while Austria travels to North Macedonia, then hosts Kazakhstan.


GROUP H
Teams:  Belgium, Croatia, Lithuania, Romania, Switzerland
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Switzerland, (2) Belgium (toss-up)

Thursday, August 29th
Lithuania 1, Croatia 2

Tuesday, September 3rd
Belgium 6, Croatia 1
Switzerland 4, Lithuania 0

Belgium, on the heels of their 3:3 home friendly draw with England (Highlights), got a solid five-goal win against Croatia, which was only blemished via a late consolation goal for the guests.  Janice Cayman scored a hat trick for the Red Flames.

Switzerland got off to a good start, blanking Lithuania 4:0.  Ramona Bachman and the Portland Thorns FC’s Ana-Maria Crnogorčević each scored in the match.

What’s Next:  In October, Switzerland travels to Lithuania, then hosts Croatia.  Meanwhile, Belgium only has one match, at Romania.  In November, Belgium travels to Croatia and hosts Lithuania, while Switzerland only hosts Romania.


GROUP I
Teams:  Germany, Greece, Montenegro, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine
Expected 1-2 Finish:  (1) Germany, (2) Ukraine or Ireland (toss-up)

Saturday, August 31st
Germany 10, Montenegro 0

Tuesday, September 3rd
Ukraine 0, Germany 8
Republic of Ireland 2, Montenegro 0

Germany scored eighteen unanswered goals in their two wins, with Alexandra Popp scoring a hat trick against Montenegro, while Sara Däbritz scored her own hat trick at Ukraine. Twelve different German players scored over the two matches, with only one of them scoring in both matches, even though there was only one change in the starting line-up between the two matches. (Highlights for the Montenegro match) (edit: corrected the number of goalscorers)

The Republic of Ireland got off to a good yet modest start, via a 2:0 home win over Montenegro.  Tyler Toland scored in the 7th minute, while Katie McCabe added an insurance goal via the penalty mark in the 69th minute.

What’s Next: For Germany and Ukraine, each other, again.  After that, Germany have an away match at Greece.   Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland only has one match, as they host Ukraine.  In November, only Ireland is in action, at Greece, as Ukraine and Germany have no qualifying matches until April 2020.  During the November window, Germany have a friendly scheduled against England at Wembley.


RIGHT TRACK / OFF-TRACK / WRONG TRACK

A quick summary of which of the top twenty-plus teams are on course to qualifying for the 2021 Women’s Euro, based on their performances so far.  For this initial summary, I have limited the lists to teams that have played (at least) two qualifying matches.

Right Track:  Netherlands (A), Russia (A), Italy (B), Denmark (B), Iceland (F), Germany (I)

Germany are back to looking like Germany, with a 10:0 home win over Montenegro and a more impressive 8:0 away win at their highest-ranked group rival, Ukraine.

In Group A, the Netherlands has two solid wins, while Russia earned an important away win at Slovenia against the third-highest team in their group, Slovenia, and had a comfortable home win against Estonia.

Two wins are two wins, so Italy should be satisfied with their results, so far.  Being happy about the narrow one-goal victories is another question, especially as their main Group B rival, Denmark had two shutout victories,   One possible concern for both teams is that, at the moment, potential interloper Bosnia and Herzegovina also sits at six points in the group, following two wins against the bottom two teams in the group,

Iceland are winning the matches they are suppose to win, as they have two home wins against the third- and fourth-ranked teams in their group, Hungary and Slovakia.

Off-Track:  Wales (C)

At 4 points through two matches, Wales is not in bad shape.  However, ceding points so soon in the cycle, especially through the concession of a deflating last-second equalizer, is worrisome, both for Wales’ morale and for their expected ability to grind out wins during the group stage.

Also, the tie with Northern Ireland does significantly raise the probability that Wales will not finish as a Top Three runner-up, and so are more likely to face a home-and-home play-off if they do finish second. If Wales fails to get a win at Belarus in October, that will push them down to “Wrong Track,”

Additionally, Wales struggling should not be a surprise, as they are currently the weakest of the teams that were in the second draw pot, with a current FIFA Women’s Ranking of 21 within UEFA.  Two Pot #3 teams, Poland (#18, Group D) and Portugal (#19, Group E) are higher.

Wrong Track:  None

So far, none of the top teams have lost a match that they were suppose to win.  The only loss among the top twenty-plus teams was suffered by Ukraine, who fell to powerhouse Germany.


BONUS:  HOST WATCH

During this international window, England played two away friendlies, a 3:3 draw against Belgium and a 1:2 loss against Norway.

Thursday, August 29th – Belgium 3, England 3:  A back-and-forth match where England took a two-nil lead in the first half, only to have Belgium equalize before the half.  Belgium got the lead in the second half, but an avoidable handball in the box led to Nikita Parris equalizing from the penalty spot.  (FA match report)

Tuesday, September 3rd – Norway 2, England 1: England once again scored first, off a long cracker by 20-year-old Georgia Stanway. But, Norway equalized on a corner kick, then took the lead in the final minutes after a cheap giveaway when Norway intercepted a bad Millie Bright pass in England’s half.  The ball was passed to Caroline Graham Hansen who dribbled deep into England’s box and looked to have taken too many touches while drifting away from goal, but was able to regroup and shot past ‘keeper Carly Telford.  This was the last match for Norway’s retiring veteran goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth, who debuted in 2003, and played her final Women’s World Cup this year at age 39. (FA match report)

Highlights of both England matches can be found at the bottom of this linked post.

England next hosts Brazil on Saturday, October 5th, and then hosts Germany on Saturday, November 9th at Wembley stadium.