It’s been a busy six days and with the first nations having just sealed their qualification for the finals in England, Ben Gilby rounds up all of the action.
Netherlands clinched their spot in the European Championships after a comprehensive 7-0 win over Estonia in Groningen on 23rd October. Two goals each from Danielle van der Donk and Jackie Groenen set the Dutch on the way with Sheride Spitse adding a penalty along with further strikes from Aniek Nouwen and Katja Snoeijs. Estonia are still looking for their first win in the qualifying stage. Russia won an important match with Slovenia as the two sides battling it off for second spot met head on in Moscow. Nelli Korovkina grabbed the only goal with fifteen minutes left. Kosovo’s remote hopes of a play-off spot seem to have ended after they could only draw 0-0 with winless Turkey. Four days later and Russia confirmed they will finish as runners-up with two games to go after defeating Turkey 4-2 in Moscow. Two goals from Margarita Chernomyrdina plus further strikes from Nelli Korovkina and Natalya Mashina were the difference. Late efforts from Derya Arhan and Didem Karagenc gave the result a better appearance from a Turkish perspective. Netherlands continued their imperious qualification form with a comfortable 6-0 win in Kosovo. A Katja Snoeijs hat-trick and one apiece from Danielle van der Donk, Lieke Martens and Vivienne Miedema took the Dutch goal tally to forty-two in their nine qualifiers so far. The match between Estonia and Slovenia was postponed with no confirmation as yet when it will be staged.
Group B took a decisive turn over the past five days. The action began with Denmark extending their goal difference over Italy to twenty-three after a 4-0 thrashing of Israel in Viborg on 21st October. Two outstanding strikes from Pernille Harder, plus an own goal from Irena Kuznetsov and an effort from Sofie Junge Pedersen earned another win. The first of two big showdowns between Denmark and Italy took place in Empoli on 27th October and the Danes 3-1 win was enough to ensure that they will top the group. They were dominant from the early stages and were 2-0 up within 17 minutes thanks to Everton’s Nicoline Sorensen and PSG’s Nadia Nadim. A second goal from Nadim just after half-time completed Denmark’s excellent victory. Valentina Giacinti’s consolation was not enough for Italy. The two sides will meet again in Viborg in the final round of qualification matches in December. Elsewhere in the group, Israel completed the double over Georgia with a 2-1 win in Tbilisi. Koral Hazan and Rahel Shtainshnaider were on the scoresheet. Teona Bakradze got a goal back for the hosts with twenty minutes to go.
On 22nd October, Wales kept alive their hopes of automatic qualification from Group C with a 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Newport. A brace from Natasha Harding, plus goals from Helen Ward and Lily Woodham sealed the win. On the same night, leaders Norway’s home game with Belarus was called off and has been tentatively re-arranged for February. Five days later, the group was decided when Norway left Cardiff with a 1-0 win over Wales which confirmed their qualification for the finals with two games to spare thanks to Frida Maanum’s goal just after the hour mark. The defeat was the first of two blows to hit the Welsh qualification hopes. The second was Northern Ireland’s sensational 1-0 win in Belarus despite playing for over an hour with only ten players after keeper Jacqueline Burns was sent off for fouling Anastaysia Shcherbachenia. Kenny Shiels’ charges rallied heroically and gained the win after Rachel Furness headed home Demi Vance’s corner just before half-time. Northern Ireland now know that if they can take maximum points from their final two matches – both at home and both potentially winnable – against Belarus and Faroe Islands they have an opportunity to claim the play-off spot ahead of Wales.
Spain gained an important 4-0 victory over fellow qualification contenders Czech Republic on 23rd October. Esther Gonzalez, Patricia Guijarro, Aitana Bonmati and Alexia Putellas were on the mark in Seville. Poland moved into second spot after a 3-0 win over Azerbaijan in Warsaw. Malgorzata Mesjasz and two goals from Weronika Zawistowska ensured the Poles got back in the saddle after a defeat to the Czechs last time out. With the Spanish not in action on 27th October, Poland took advantage to go back to the top of the group following a 3-0 in Moldova thanks to goals from Paulina Dudek, Adriana Achcinska (penalty) and Dominika Kopinska. Czech Republic cemented third spot with a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Azerbaijan. Clara Cahynova, Tereza Krejcirikova and Tereza Szewieczkova were on the mark. The Poles are now a point ahead of Spain, but have played two games more.
Scotland moved to within a point of leaders Finland in Group E with a game in hand after a 3-0 win over Albania in Edinburgh on 23rd October. Whilst Shelley Kerr’s side dominated the game, they had to wait until the final fourteen minutes to add to Rachel Corsie’s goal. It was Caroline Weir’s two late strikes (one from the spot) that cemented the result. Portugal got themselves back into the qualification hunt with a 3-0 win in Cyprus. Claudia Neto, Diana Silva and Ana Capeta scored the goals. Four days later, Scotland’s hopes took a slight dent following a 1-0 defeat in Helsinki to Finland who are now three points clear at the top of the table. It was a frustrating night for the Scots who created the best chances throughout. Martha Thomas fired over when clean through and Erin Cuthbert drove a fierce effort narrowly wide in the opening period. Second half chances fell to Leanne Crichton who hit a glorious volley just wide and to Jane Ross who saw a header come back off the bar. The Finns punished their visitors for those misses when, from a corner, Lizzie Arnot headed an effort off the line, but only as far as Eveliina Summanen who smashed it home. The Scots now fall to third in the group with four games to play following Portugal’s 1-0 win over Cyprus thanks to an own goal from Chara Charakambous.
In Group F, Sweden and Iceland remain comprehensively clear of the rest. The Swedes demolished Latvia 7-0 in Gothenburg on 22nd October. Two goals from Pauline Hammarlund plus single strikes from Lina Hurtig, Anna Anvegard, Olivia Schough, Magda Eriksson and Filippa Curmark sealed the deal. A day later, Slovakia moved into third place with a 2-1 win in Hungary. Patricia Hmirova and Maria Mikolajova put the Slovaks ahead before a late strike from Sara Pusztai provided the Hungarians with some pride. The top two faced off in Gothenburg on 27th October, and Sweden’s 2-0 win over Iceland confirmed they will win the group. Eva Jakobsson and Olivia Schough were on target. Elsewhere, Slovakia gained their second win over the past week by dispatching Latvia 2-0 thanks to two penalties in twenty-six first half minutes from Patricia Hmirova.
Group G has taken a fascinating turn over the past five days. France began with a comprehensive 11-0 win at home to North Macedonia in Orleans on 23rd October to set the home side up for their vital clash with Austria. Four goals from Eugenie Le Sommer, two from Grace Geyoro, plus strikes from Valerie Gauvin, Elisa de Almeida, Kadidiatou Diani, Viviane Asseyi and Delphine Cascarino summed up France’s total dominance. Their top of the table clash in Austria on 27th October ended goalless. The two countries are separated by just goal difference at the top. It makes the decisive return clash next month mouth-watering.
Lithuania remain winless in Group H after two further losses over the past few days. On 23rd October, Romania came away from Suduva Stadium with a 4-0 win following two goals by Stefania Vatufu and one each from Laura Rus and Ana Maria Vladulescu. 27th October saw the top two sides, Switzerland and Belgium earn routine wins respectively. The Swiss emerged 2-0 winners in Romania with Coumba Sow and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic on target. The Belgians demolished Lithuania in Sudova to the tune of 9-0. Hat-tricks by Tessa Wullaert and Tine De Caigny and one from Marie Minnaert plus own goals from Milde Luizinaite and Gabija Gedgaudaite completed the rout. Belgium host Switzerland in the final round of qualification matches in December in a huge game which will decide who wins the group. The Swiss, top by a single point need just a draw to guarantee winning the group.
Finally to Group I where Ukraine won their third qualifier in a row which gives them a realistic chance of claiming the runners-up spot in the group. Their 1-0 win over a Republic of Ireland side who appeared to be virtually guaranteed of second place at one point was a superb achievement. An own goal from Aine Marie O’Gorman was the difference. Greece picked up only their second win of the qualification period after a 1-0 success over Montenegro in Athens. Eleni Markou’s goal earned the win. Ukraine increased the pressure on the Irish on 27th October with a 4-0 win in Greece thanks to two goals from Darya Kravets with Natia Pantsulaia and Nadiia Kunina adding one each. This means Ireland know they need to beat heavyweights Germany in their final game in order to prevent Ukraine, who will expect to comfortably defeat winless Montenegro on the same night, from taking the runners-up spot.
With the qualification tournament now reaching its climax, it is worth looking closely at the race for runners-up places in each of the groups. The second placed countries with the three best records will qualify directly for the final tournament in England. At the moment, those places would go to Belgium, Austria and Italy. This would send Spain, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Wales and Portugal into the play-offs to see who would earn the remaining three places in the finals.