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The Week in Women's Football: Champions League group stage qualifiers; U20 World Cup review;

This week, we look at the final six teams to advance from the Qualifying Rounds of the Women's Champions League and give our thoughts on the recently completed 2018 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in France.


2018/19 UEFA Champions League First Round Group Stage Qualifiers

Group 1: Ajax (NED), Thór/KA (ISL)*

Group 2: Somatio Barcelona FA (CYP)

Group 3: Glasgow City (SCO)

Group 4: Slavia Praha (CZE)

Group 5: ŽFK Spartak (SRB)

Group 6: WFC Khakhiv (UKR)

Group 7: BIIK-Kazygurt (KAZ)

Group 8: SFK 2000 Sarajevo (BIH)

Group 9: Gintra Universitetas (LTU, hosts), Honka (FIN)*

Group 10: Avaldsnes (NOR)

*The two runners-up with the best record against the sides first and third in their group


WFC-2 Kharkiv of Ukraine knocked out perennial powerhouse Olimpia Cluj of Romania in Group 6; the Romanians were playing in their eighth consecutive WCL campaign, having made the Round of 32 four times and the Round of 16 once, in 2012-13. The Group 6 hosts advanced with a 3-1 win over Cluj in the last group game on August 13. They were entirely home-based except for two Russian defenders: international Alevtina Utitskikh and Zhanna Sanina, who formerly played in the WCL in 2014 with Ryazan-VDV. Ukrainian international striker Daryna Apanaschenko (32)—who played for years in Russia with Zvezda Perm and lost in the UEFA club finals to Duisburg of Germany in 2008-09—led the team with 4 goals and 1 assist in the 3 group games while 18-year-old Ukrainian youth international Nadiia Kunina had 3 goals and 2 assists. Coach Valentyna Kotyk (40) was a Ukrainian international as a player and has won four league titles as a player/coach at home.

In Group 7, WFC BIIK-Kazygurt of Kazakhstan—a veteran side of the Women's Champions League led by vastly experienced Bulgarian coach Kaloyan Petrov, who was an assistant with U.S. based semi-professional side FC Indiana and has coached the Kazak national selection—again has utilized a number of imports, including three from the U.S., three from other Eastern European nations and three from Africa. The Americans are:

Defender Mykaylin Rosenquist has played at the University of Arizona, FC Tucson in WPSL and in the second divisions in Australia and Sweden with Limhamn Bunkeflo IF in 2016.

Midfielder Kaelyn Korte played at Central Michigan University and, as we saw last week with Somatia Barcelona FA's American forward Krystyna Freda who is writing a series of four novels, is also a writer (https://www.alongtheway.today/), compiling short stories about her football travels.

Midfielder Eli Beard scored four goals and four assists in her senior season at Marquette University in 2017.

The three imports from Eastern Europe are: Russian defender Kristina Mashkova, who played in the WCL Round of 32 with Zorky of Russia in 2015-16, defender Darya Kravets of the Ukraine, who played with Mashova at Zorky and Georgian international forward Gulnara Gabelia (33), who scored twice in the three 2018 WCL games.

From Africa, forward Fazila Ikwaput (20) of Uganda had 3 of her team's 9 goals in the 3 group games. Ikwaput transferred in this summer from Indian Premier League side Gokuluam Kerala. Uganda is not in the African Championships/CAF World Cup Qualifying Finals this fall in Ghana but the national has a few other players abroad including: Jean Sseninde Namayega with Crystal Palace in England, Sandra Nabweteme and Joan Nakirya at Southwest Oklahoma State University and Natasha Shirazi at Danish club Ballerupskovlude Foothold BSF.

Forward Charity Adule of Nigeria (23) joined BIIK in 2014 and is a full Nigerian international and also played in the 2010 (Germany) and 2012 (Japan) U-20 World Cups. Adule had one goal in the Champions League matches. Fellow attacker Chinwendu Ihezuo (20) is also a full Nigerian international and played at the 2014 U-20 World Cup in Canada; she tallied 3 goals in 3 matches for BIIK.

BIIK-Kazygurt is in their 12th European Club Championship and has advanced to at least the Round of 32 for the sixth consecutive season and to the Round 16 the last two seasons.


SFK 2000 Sarajevo of Bosnia and Herzegovina won Group 8 under head coach Samira Huren. This is the clubs 15th consecutive season in the Women's Champions League/Women's Cup, but only its third time advancing to the round of 32. The side has three players from other Balkan nations and one from Italy: defender Nana Yaa Welbeck-Maseko (21). The three imports from Eastern Europe are: defender Nikoleta Nikolic of Serbia, midfielder Jasna Djokovic, who is a Montenegrin international and played previously in the Champions League with home side Ekonomist Niksic, and fellow Montenegrin forward Tamara Bojat.


Gintra Universitetas from Lithuania finished first in Group 9 against FC Honka of Finland FC, NSA of Bulgaria and EBS /Skala of the Faroe Islands. Gintra's 17 goals (while allowing one) was the highest goal total among the 40 first round teams. This side traditionally has a large contingent of players from abroad. This season head coach Rimantas Vikotravicius, who also coached the Lithuanian national side and has won 6 consecutive league titles since taking over Gintra in 2012 after coaching at Siauliai in Lithuania, has 6 imports from Eastern Europe and one each from Brazil, the U.S. and South Africa.

Among the Eastern European imports are Ukraine international defender Anastasia Filenko (27), defender Marija Cubrilo of Serbia and her sister Jelena (midfielder) both played at home with Sparkak Subotica; Jelena was a U-19 international for her country, and midfielder Lyubov Gudchenko of Belarus, who played at home for many years at Nadezhda. Midfielder Ana Alekperova of Azerbaijan has won multiple titles with Gintra over the past half dozen campaigns while forward Carolina Tabur (19) is from Moldova and a youth and full international.

Recent addition South African international midfielder Leandra Smeda (29) scored the tying goal in their 1-1 tie with Honka in second half injury time in the group stage. She said to her local newspaper, The Citizens (of Gauteng Province, including Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria): "I am really enjoying myself here, and I am glad I made the move. Life is very good, and yes I do miss home but thanks to technology I get to speak to them almost every day. What is also helping the situation is that there is just one hour difference and that makes things a lot easier for me to contact my family and friends. To be honest, I am glad I came here. This league will give me the kind of preparation I need for the African Women's Cup of Nations in Ghana later this year." South Africa will aim to make their first ever Women's World Cup after qualifying for the last two Olympic Games.

At 29 years of age, Smeda had given up hope of ever playing abroad; generally most players in Africa or most regions move abroad for the first time at a younger age; she explained how the move came about: "A former teammate told me about this agency (LTA) because one of their representatives is based in Namibia. So she gave me the contact details and I contacted them and they got back to me. They looked at my clips and then they signed me to the agency. They got back to me two months ago. There was first a club from Russia, but they decided not to sign any international players for this season. And then the one from Lithuania came, so that's how I got [to] the team. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am excited because it's not a lot of South African players that get signed abroad because of the lack of exposure. So hopefully some of my other teammates can also follow. I have already recommended to the agency some of my teammates, so hopefully doors will be opened for them as well….I gave up [on going overseas] long ago because when you start playing and you've been to the Olympics and the AWC [African Women's Championship], our players were not getting signed until recently when [South African] international defender [and captain] Janine [van Wyk] went to the U.S., which opened doors for others to follow [2 others joined the Dash for this season along with former national team coach Vera Pauw]. When you look at how long it took for even her to get signed professionally, I did not expect to sign professionally [Van Wyck was 30 when she moved to the Houston Dash in the NWSL for her first season in 2017]. I thought I would just retire and play for fun to keep fit."

American midfielder Noel Baham (22) played at the University of California-Irvine and for the UWS expansion side LA Galaxy-Orange County, with 1 goal in four games this past summer and 6 goals and 6 assists in 20 games last season as a senior at UCI. Forward Isadora Freitas (27) of Brazil completes the import contingent for Gintra, a professional side that is aligned with a local university.


FC Honka Espoo finished second to Gintra in Group 9 and has a roster based entirely on Finnish nationals. Their advancement to the Women's Champion's League round of 32 is an achievement for the 2017 Naisten Liiga champions, (their fourth) and fourth time in Europe, the last time being in 2009-10 when they were seeded directly into the Round of 32 and lost to Potsdam of Germany 16-1 on aggregate.

Group 10 winners Avaldsnes Idrettslag of Norway has finished second at home for the last three seasons but is struggling so far in their league in 2018-19, sitting in a ninth place tie with Trondheims with 15 points from 15 games and only 3 points above the relegation zone. They have made the Round of 32 in all three of their WCL league campaigns since 2016-17 and advancing to the Round of 16 this season could be a huge positive after their disappointing showing in the league this season. The side has five Brazilians, two Americans and one each from Cameroon, Denmark, Guyana, Korea Republic and the Netherlands.

Goalkeeper Line Johansen Denmark (29) has been capped a few times by her full national team and has played for clubs at home, in England (Watford), Australia, Sweden and Norway. Fellow goalkeeper Chante Sandiford was raised in the U.S., played at UCLA and won a Russian title with Zorkiy in 2012/13 Russia. Sandiford has also played in Iceland and Norway, but plays internationally for CONCACAF's Guyana. Defender Andreia Rosa of Brazil played in the 2008 Olympics and has been at the Norwegian club since 2013. She is joined by fellow Brazilians Daiane (defender), Duda and Luana (both midfielders, while midfielder and international Francielle (28) won the first ever WPS title with Sky Blue FC in 2009 and the same season won the South American Copa Libertadores Femenina club title with Santos of Brazil and again with Sao Jose of Brazil during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. She played in Iceland with Stjarnan in 2015 before spending a year at home with Corinthians; she moved to Norway in 2017.

Defender Maruschka Waldus of the Netherlands is in her first season with Avaldsness and played in the U.S. (at the University of Alabama and briefly with Sky Blue FC in 2015 in the NWSL), in Sweden, Germany, at home, in Iceland and last season with the Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia's W-League.

American midfielder Jordan O'Brien played at Tulsa University and played in Iceland with KR Reykjavik and QBIK in Sweden; she trained with the expansion Orlando Pride during the 2016 season and was a late roster edition in August 2017. She was then released two months later and journeyed back to Scandinavia to join Avaldsnes ahead of this season. Forward Jamia Fields (ex-Florida State University who were College Cup champions her last season in 2014 and a U.S. youth international) played 3 years in the NWSL, winning a title with theWestern New York Flash in 2015 before playing two seasons with Orlando Pride. She was released ahead of the 2018 season and played briefly with Arna-Bjornar in Norway, who also cut her loose, but she signed with Avaldsnes a few weeks ago.

Midfielder Sohyun Cho Korea Republic is the first from her country to play in Norway. She has over 100 caps with her national team, including captaining the side at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, when they advanced to the round of 16, and also played on loan at Japanese powerhouse INAC Kobe Leonessa a few years ago.

Forward Gaelle Enganamouit played with Cameroon at the 2015 Women's World Cup and scored a hat trick in a 6-0 defeat of Ecuador; at the club level she has played in Serbia with Spartak Subotica, in Sweden with Eskilstuna and Rosengard and in China with Dalian Quanjian. Cameroon and Enganamouit still have a chance to return to the Women's World Cup next year in France if they finish in the top three this fall in the Ghana African Women's Cup of Nations.

Coach Lena Tyriberget, who joined the side in January, has coached Norway's U-17 national team in the past.



Takeaways from U-20 Women's World Cup in France

CONCACAF's Three Teams Fall at Group Stage

CONCACAF's three representatives had very different experiences at the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in France, held from August 5 through 24, but the end result were group stage exits for all three nations. Mexico, the CONCACAF regional champions for the first time ever, started out with a pulsating 3-2 defeat of Brazil, thanks to a penalty kick save late in injury time by goalkeeper Emily Alvarado—who grew up in the border town of El Paso and attends Texas Christian University—from midfielder Victoria of Minas ICESP in Brazil. Mexico then fell narrowly to reigning champions Korea DPR 2-1 and needed a victory over England in their last match to ensure their advancement to the quarterfinals, as Korea DPR was besting Brazil 2-1. At half-time Mexico were looking home and dry with a 1-0 lead from a wonder goal by Jacque Ovalle (Tigres UANL of Monterrey) from well outside the box. Ovalle was a danger throughout the three games as she totaled 4 goals; she scored a brace against Brazil and is definitely one to watch and could eventually head to Europe or the States to play professionally in the future. Mexico will want to forget the second half however as they completely collapsed against a revitalized England, who scored six times to advance as Group B winners with a 6-1 victory.

This was the "Group of Death" undoubtedly, but Mexico's complete capitulation was unnerving to watch and it will be interesting to see what happens with head coach Chris Cuellar, son of long-time former Mexican women's national team head coach Leo, who now coaches Club America in the two year old Liga MX. Chris Cuellar probably should make way for someone else, completely breaking the two decades long Cuellar dynasty at the Federation on the women's side, which some have felt has lasted because of lack of interest in the women's program in general. With the new Liga MX setting global records for women's club game attendance at their finals last spring, the FA officials can't get away with that excuse anymore and need coaches to drive the women's national teams program—harnessing the tremendous talent that they can draw on from both Mexico and from their diaspora in the States—to the next level and avoid the type of collapse we saw against England. It brought back memories of heavy losses that the full Mexican National Team has encountered in the past, particularly against the United States but also the 5-0 loss to France in the 2015 World Cup and 6-0 defeat later that year to Brazil. You never quite know if you will see a talented and vibrant national side or one that seemingly is defeated before it comes on the field. Mexico needs a coaching regime change to solve that bugaboo in their play that seems part and parcel of the Cuellar legacy.

The U.S. played well but left an impression that there was something missing on this side, or perhaps it was overly high expectations. Their group was probably a key contributor. Paraguay were overmatched in only their second U-20 finals after 2014, with 1 goal for and 16 against, but Spain surprised everyone by taking first place in the Group, their lone blemish was a 2-2 tie to the States in the last match, when they held a 2-0 lead until seven minutes were left. Japan finished second with 6 points and their opening game 1-0 victory over the U.S. was the key factor for the U.S. going home early, the first time in nine events that the 3 time winners had not advanced to at least the quarterfinals at the U-20 level. Vaunted goal scorer and high-schooler Sophie Smith scored three goals while midfielder Savannah Demele (University of Southern California) was superb with four tallies and masterful handling of the attacking midfield. Again for coaches, we have to ask if former Czech international head coach Jitka Klimkova will survive or whether another youth national team coach is brought in for the next cycle.

Then we have Haiti. The only coaching question we will ask here is what Haiti can do to persuade the Guadeloupe-born, experienced French coach Marc Collat to stay long-term with the island nation. He was brought in recently to continue on the building process of Polish-American Shek Borkowski, who focused on the Haitian youth teams during his five year tenure as technical director. Haiti lost each game by a single goal: against China (2-1), Nigeria (1-0) and Germany (3-2). Led by Montpellier-based Nerilia Mondesir who scored three times, they always looked dangerous and attacked with flair and passion. Germany had not let in a goal in 243 minutes but gave up 2 in 10 minutes, seeing their 3-0 margin dwindle and was on the ropes a bit at the end. All of Haiti's matches but particularly the game against Germany, when they were already eliminated, was a textbook lesson in how not to give up on a game—a lesson that Mexico could have utilized. Melchie Dumonay, a 14 year old attacking midfielder who turned 15 during the tournament, was superb if a little thuggish at times in the tackle. One suspects that she will join Mondesir at a European club in the near future. Viva Haiti and one hopes their teams will continue to grace the world stage in years to come.



All 5 UEFA Teams make the Quarterfinals

UEFA saw all 5 of their entries advance to the Quarterfinals: France and the Netherlands from Group 1, England from Group 2, Spain from Group 3 and Germany from Group 4. Two of three Asian sides advanced: Korea DPR and Japan in second place in Group B and C respectively while China went home in third in Group D on goal difference. Surprisingly, along with CONCACAF's trio early exit, CONMEBOL's two representatives both finished in last place, Brazil in Group B and Paraguay in Group C. For Oceania, New Zealand finished at the bottom of Group A, while third place Ghana of Africa also did not advance; Nigeria did move on in Group D on goal difference over China (0 vs -1).

Brittany Venues were a Delight

France's 2019 Women's World Cup Organizing surprised many by holding the games entirely in Brittany rather than in some of the nine venues that will host WWC games next year: Le Havre, Paris, Reims, Rennes and Valenciennes in the North or Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier and Nice in the South. The French flipped the model and instead hosted the games in smaller stadiums in picturesque locations including Concarneau, Dinan/Lehon, Sait-Malo and Vannes. Kudos to the French inspiration—the games were well attended in festive atmospheres and resembled, albeit on a smaller scale, the European Championships in the Netherlands last summer, which successfully utilized smaller cities and stadiums in a memorable tournament.

England's Third Place Finish

England defeated hosts France on penalty kicks (4-2) after a 1-1 tie in 90 minutes to take third place in the tournament, their best finish ever. England was a very pleasant surprise and have talented some players to integrate into the seniors including attacking midfielder Georgia Stanway (Manchester City), who finished second with 6 goals, behind Patricia Guijarro of Spain (Barcelona) with 6 goals and 3 assists, while Japan's Saori Takarada (Cerezo Osaka) had 5 goals and 3 assists for third and her teammate Riko Ueki (NTV Beleza) had 5 goals and 1 assist for fourth. Other stars for England were Lauren Hemp, also of Man City, who had 3 goals and 3 goals, while goalkeeper Sandy MacIver, who plays at Clemson University in South Carolina, won the Golden Glove Award as the best goalkeeper in the tournament. Spain's Guijarro won the Golden Ball as the tournament's top player, while Takarada won the Silver Ball for second and teammate Moeka Minami (Urawa Reds) took the Bronze Ball.

France has now finished third, second and fourth in the last three U-20 tournaments—they have not won the crown yet but the positive is that they have a strong conveyer belt of talent at the youth level that will keep the full national team reloading into the next decade. France advanced to the semifinals by defeating Korea DPR 1-0 in a quarterfinal repeat of the championship final in Papua New Guinea two years ago, with France gaining revenge for their 3-1 loss in the WWC final; though France won 3-2 over Korea DPR in the third place game in 2014 in Canada. France then fell by the same score (1-0) to Spain in the semifinals, in a repeat of the U-19 European Championship Tournament last year, when Spain rallied to win 3-2. Japan defeated England 2-0 in the other semifinal.

Japan Win Their First U-20 Title

The Japan vs. Spain final was the third AFC vs UEFA final after Korea DPR's 3-1 win over France in 2016 and Germany's 2-0 win over China PR in 2004. Japan has finished third on two occasions, in 2012 when they hosted the event and in 2016 in Papua New Guinea. Japan's side was worthy winners with a 3-1 defeat of Spain in an entertaining match, reversing their 1-0 defeat to Spain in the Group stage. Japan led all teams in scoring with 15 in 6 games, followed by England (13), Spain (11) and France (10). Spain and Japan have both qualified for next summer's WWC, again in France, and it will be interesting to see how many players from the finals squads make the full national team rosters.



Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey

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