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The Week in Women's Football: UEFA World Cup qualifiers group-by-group review

This week we review the 24 UEFA Women's World Cup Qualifiers held from June 7 through June 12, which helped to further differentiate some of the groups, with two Finalists for France 2019 being determined from these games—Spain and Italy.


European World Cup Qualifying Update by Group—June 2018

Group 1

On June 7, Wales used a Kayleigh Green goal just past the hour mark to defeat Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 in Swansea to stay competitive with England in the bid for top spot in the group. Green (30), played previously for Cardiff City, and is now with FA Super League side Yeovil Town (which was relegated after the recently completed season) after a loan spell in Italy with ASD Chieti.

On June 8, England travelled to Moscow and England triumphed over Russia 3-1, with all four goals coming in the first 36 minutes of the match. England had a decided advantage in total shot attempts (13-7), and shots on goal (7-3). England used a brace from Manchester's City Jill Scott (with the goals coming 9 minutes apart) along with an opener from club teammate Nikita Parris. Elena Danilova (Ryazan) scored the loan reply for Russia, which even though it came in the 31st minute, left the home side down 2-1. England's side for the trip to Russia included the following players, with four based abroad—two in the States and one each in Spain and France. Four came from WSL champions Chelsea and double that number from runners-up Manchester City.

Goalkeepers:

Karen Bardsley (Manchester City)
Mary Earps (Reading)
Carly Telford (Chelsea)

Defenders:

Hannah Blundell (Chelsea)
Millie Bright (Chelsea)
Lucy Bronze (Lyon—France)
Rachel Daly (Houston Dash—USA)
Steph Houghton (Manchester City)
Abbie McManus (Manchester City)

Midfielders:

Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City)
Fran Kirby (Chelsea)
Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal)
Jill Scott (Manchester City)
Keira Walsh (Manchester City)

Forwards:

Toni Duggan (Barcelona—Spain)
Melissa Lawley (Manchester City)
Beth Mead (Arsenal)
Nikita Parris (Manchester City)
Jodie Taylor (Seattle Reign—USA)
Ellen White (Birmingham City)

On June 12, Bosnia and Herzegovina fell 2-0 at home to Kazakhstan in Zenica. An own goal after 30 minutes of play by Bosnian defender Amira Spahic of local side Sarajevo gave the visitors the lead, who then sewed up the match through a Yekaterina Babshuk tally (BIIK-Kazygurt) with 15 minutes to go. Her club teammate, Oksana Zheleznyak (31), marshalled the shutout in goal, her first of the qualifiers in her team's first victory in the UEFA 2019 WWC Qualifiers.

The same day, Wales played again at home, this time against Russia in Newport, with the later having the long trip west after entertaining England five days earlier. After a scoreless first half, Kayleigh Green again scored the winner in the 48th minute, for her second national team winning goal in five games. Green scored again in the 62nd minute while Natasha Harding (Bristol City) scored in the 62nd minute for an emphatic 3-0 victory.

Wales has a narrow lead over England (17 points to 16) but England has a game in hand (having played 6 to 7 for Wales). After the two losses this month, Russia is definitely out of the running for the 2019 Women's World Cup with 7 points from 6 games, followed by Kazakhstan (3 points from 6 games) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (3 points from 7 games).

Group 2

On June 7, Scotland hosted Belarus in Falkirk. There were some early concerns for the home crowd when Karina Olkhovik (FC Rguor Minsk) scored after 27 minutes for the visitors but Erin Cuthbert—who won a title this season for Chelsea in England—scored at the end of the first half and again in the 65th minute to keep the Scottish side three points adrift of leaders Switzerland, while Belarus remained rooted at the bottom of the five team group.

On June 12, Poland hosted Scotland in Kielce in what was the most entertaining match of the dozen on the day. Again Scotland left it late and was down 2-0 until 12 minutes from the end when Kim Little (Arsenal), substitute Jane Ross (Manchester City) and Lisa Evans (Arsenal) scored to rescue the match and possible World Cup hopes for the team that has yet to make the Finals. Poland used an early goal by Dzesika Jaszek (RTP Unia Raciborz of Poland) in the 6th minute and an own goal from Sophie Howard (Hoffenheim of Germany) but their defense looked shaky throughout the match and constant pressure from the Scots finally paid off.

The same day, Belarus fell in Minsk to Switzerland 5-0, with Lara Dickenmann (Wolfsburg of Germany and ex-Olympique Lyon) scoring a brace.

Switzerland remains perfect atop the Group 2 table with 18 points from 6 matches, with Scotland (15 points from 6 matches) a close second after their crucial away win over third place Poland (7 points from 6 matches). Albania (4 points from 7 games) and Belarus (3 points from 7 games) lag behind.


Group 3

On June 8, Republic of Ireland hosted Norway in the first of a crucial two leg series in five days that likely would determine the second place qualifier in the group. Norway came away with a vital 2-0 victory, overwhelming the Irish in shots (20-2) as well as shots on target efforts (7-1). Lisa-Marie Utland (25), who plays at home with Roa, scored in the 21st and 61st minutes while Staebek's goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth posted the clean sheet. Norway seems over its European Championship hangover from last summer, when they lost all three group games, looked dreadful and people assumed that Swedish coach Martin Sjogren would be on his way—if it were China yes, much like the fate of Icelandic coach Siggi Eyjolfsson, who was jettisoned after 6 months after an Asian Cup semifinal loss to Japan (3-1), even though China had already qualified for France and finished third in the event—but Sjogren has a chance to guide Norway to another Women's World Cup berth. Norway pulled past an optimistic Irish side under dynamic coach and Leicester native Colin Bell, who won a Women's Champions League title with Frankfurt, and has done wonders with the play and attitude of a country where Gaelic sports remain more popular for women to play than football.

The same day, Northern Ireland fell 5-0 to the reigning European Champion Netherlands, who used with a first half goal from Lineth Beerensteyn (Bayern Munich), and second half efforts from Danielle Van De Donk (Arsenal of the FA Super League), Shanice van De Sanden (Olympique Lyon), Sherida Spitse (Twente of the Netherlands) and Jackie Groenen (Frankfurt). The shot advantage was worse than in the game in Dublin: the Dutch took 28 shots to 2 for Northern Ireland; the shots on goal difference was 13-1

On June 12, Norway hosted the return against the Republic of Ireland and came away with the full 6 points in the June two leg set, with a 1-0 win from Caroline Graham Hansen's (Wolfsburg) goal on a 25th minute penalty kick; goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth again kept the Irish off the scoreboard.

On June 12, the Netherlands hosted bottom side Slovakia in Heerenveen and narrowly won on an injury time goal by Barcelona's Lieke Martens to remain undefeated at the top of the group. Arsenal goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal kept Slovakia scoreless.

The Netherlands remains at the top in Group 3 with 19 points from 7 games, with Norway (15 points from 6 games) leapfrogging the Republic of Ireland (10 points from 7 games) into second, leaving Ireland out of the World Cup running after a bright start to the group. Northern Ireland has 3 points from 6 games and Slovakia is still pointless after 6 games.

Group 4

On June 7, Sweden defeated Croatia 4-0 in Gothenburg, with Stina Blackstenius (Montpellier of France) scoring a brace, though it was 1-0 game until the 63rd minute.

On June 8, Ukraine hosted Denmark in a tricky tie in Lviv in the western part of the country. Denmark came home as emphatic 5-1 winners, with braces from Nadia Nadim (Manchester City and ex-Portland Thorns) and Sanne Troelsgaard (Rosengard of Sweden), with Kharkiv of the Ukraine forward Olha Ovidychuk scoring a late consolation goal just before the end of the match. Nadim, who scored one penalty, was denied a hat trick when she missed a second penalty kick, just before being subbed off with 15 minutes left. Denmark had a 21-7 advantage on Ukraine for shot attempts and 12-2 for shots on target.

On June 12, Ukraine entertained the other Scandinavian side in their group—leaders Sweden—again in Lviv, and won 1-0, throwing a spanner in the works with the upset of this round of WWC qualifiers. Captain Daryna Apanaschenko (Zvezda 2005 of Russia) scored just minutes before halftime and her club teammate, goalkeeper Kateryna Samson, kept Sweden scoreless. Ukraine has 11 total shot attempts to 14 for Sweden but the Ukrainians led in shots on goal (7-5).

Also on June 12, Denmark won at home in Viborg with a 5-1 win over Hungary, their second 5-1 win in four days. Nadia Nadim scored 2 goals again, this time within a couple of minutes of half time. Hungarian star Zsanett Jakabfi of Wolfsburg in Germany gave her side the lead in the 24th minute before Nadim's brace and 3 more Danish goals in the second half turned the match for the Danes.

Sweden and Denmark are now tied for first with 15 points in 6 games, with Sweden holding a slight advantage in goal difference (+16 to +15). The Ukraine has 10 points from 6 games, followed by Hungary (4 points from 7 points) and Croatia (2 points from 7 points). The last group match between the two Scandinavian leaders in Denmark on September 4 will decide the automatic World Cup berth, with the second place side having a good chance for the four team playoff. For their opening match last year, Denmark did not play as they held a work stoppage against their Federation in a pay dispute. The Swedes were supportive and willing to work with them on an alternate date—the Swedish Damallsvenskan does the same thing when there are postponements in the league season—but FIFA ruled that Denmark must forfeit the game to Sweden.


Group 5

On June 7, the Faroe Islands fell to Slovenia 4-0 in Torshavn with a brace (including a penalty) from midfielder Mateja Zver of St. Polten of Austria, with singles from two young players who are with also clubs abroad: 19-year-old striker Lara Prasnika (Turbine Potsdam of Germany) and 21-year-old midfielder Lara Ivanusa, who has played in Sweden with Kvarnsveden the last two years.

On June 11, Iceland beat Slovenia in Reykjavik 2-0, through defender Glodis Viggosdottir's (Rosengard of Sweden after time with Eskilstuna United and at home with Stjarnan) goals in the 55th minute and the 64th minute. Iceland had twice the number of total shot attempts (14 to 7) as well as shots on target (7 to 3).

The next day, the Czech Republic entertained the Faroe Islands in Chomutov and won 4-1, with goals from Katerina Svitkova (Slavia Prague) in the 14th minute, and second half tallies from Lucie Martinkova (Sparta Prague), Lucie Vonkova (Bayern Munich) and 19-year-old Antonie Starova (Sparta Prague). Twenty-one-year-old forward Milja Simonsen (Havnar Boltfelag) scored a late consolation for the Faroes, a landmark first goal in seven matches after surrendering 45 goals in the qualifiers.

Surprising Iceland leads the group over Germany (16 points vs. 15 points) with both teams having played 6 games. Iceland will host the Germans on September 1 in what will be the decider as to who qualifies directly to France and who most probably has to go through the playoffs. Behind the leaders are the Czech Republic (10 points from 6 games), Slovenia (6 points from 7 games) and the Faroe Islands (0 points from 7 games).


Group 6

On June 8, Italy bested Portugal 3-0 in Florence to remain perfect in the group, while Portugal seemingly has seen the door shut on them for any hopes of finishing second in the group, for a last chance to make the France World Cup next summer. Cristiana Girelli and Cecilia Salvai (both Brescia) tallied within the first 15 minutes to send Italy on its way, while another Brescia call-up, Barbara Bonansea, scored in second half injury time. Thirty-two year old goalkeeper Roslia Pipitone (RES Roma) kept the clean sheet for the victorious home side.

On June 10 Belgium blasted Moldova 7-0 with Montpellier of France (and ex-NWSL Western New York Flash—briefly—and Juvisy of France) forward Janice Cayman scoring twice and 23-year-old goalkeeper Nicky Evrard of Twente in neighboring Netherlands recording the shutout. Belgium had 24 shots to 1 for Moldova and a 14 -1 shots on target advantage.

On June 12, Romania tied Portugal in Botosani 1-1, ending the visitors hopes matching their 2017 UEFA Championship debut at next summer's Women's World Cup. Nineteen-year-old Isabelle Mihail of Romanian power Olimpia Cluj scored in the 34th minute while Braga's 21-year-old forward Andreia Norton scored five minutes later.

Italy remains perfect in Group 6 with 21 points from 7 wins in 7 matches and has assured itself of the Group 6 title and passage to France 2019, with Belgium second on 13 points from 6 matches. Belgium now must hope they acquire enough points, against teams finishing first, third and fourth, to move on to the next round of games between the top four second place finishers (see below). Portugal and Romania are tied with 5 points after 6 games, while Moldova has one point after 7 games.

Note: This is the first World Cup that Italy has qualified for since 1999, but have made the last 6 European Championships dating to 1997, including finishing as runners-up in 1997 and advancing to the 2009 and the 2013 Quarterfinals.

Group 7

On June 7, Spain defeated Israel 2-0 in Murcia with goals from Maria Paz (Valencia) in the 51st minute and Alexia Putellas (Barcelona) two minutes from full time.Lee Falkon, who played last winter in Australia with Western Sydney Wanderers after time in Germany, started for Israel along with ex-Sky Blue FC forward Danielle Schulmann (Qiryat Gat of Israel).

The next day, Finland hosted Austria in Helsinki's National Football Stadium in a crucial match for second place and a possible play-in spot to the World Cup. The guests, surprise UEFA Championship semifinalists last summer, scored an important road victory with a competent 2-0 win, beginning with an early own goal by Finland's Emma Koivisto (in her first season at Gothenburg in Sweden after years at home with Honka and HJK), with Bayern Munich midfielder Katharina Schiechtl clinching the win in the 72nd minute. Schiechtl's club teammate, 31 year old goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger—who was so inspirational last summer in the Netherlands at the Continental Championships—recorded the shutout, facing 9 total shots with 5 on target, while Austria had 10 shots and 3 on goal respectively.

On June 12, Serbia lost to Finland 2-0 in Zemun, with a goal from 30-year-old defender Tuija Hyyrynen (Fortuna of Denmark) in the 17th minute. Twenty-year-old Serbian goalkeeper Milica Kostic (Spartak Subotica of Serbia) surrendered a late own goal for the final score. Finnish goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela of Bayern Munich (32) shut out the Serbian side.

On June 12, Israel entertained Austria in Ramat Gan and the Austrians went home with a 6-0 win, with all the tallies coming from their Frauen-Bundesliga-based players, with first half goals from Katharina Schiechtl (Werder Bremen of Germany) and Carina Wenninger (Bayern Munich of Germany), and then second half goals from Nicole Billa (Hoffenheim of Germany), Sarah Puntigam (Freiburg of Germany) from the penalty spot, as well as from Verena Aschauer and Laura Feiersinger (both Sand of Germany). Austria had 17 shots on goal to 4 for Israel, with 10 on target for the winners to 0 for Israel

Spain has clinched the Group title and automatic World Cup spot with 18 points from 6 games, followed by Austria (13 points from 7 games), Finland (10 points from 6 games) and Serbia (7 points from 7 games), with Israel at the bottom with a single point from 8 games. Austria and Finland will contest the final group math on September 4, but in such a competitive group, the second place side is likely to miss out on the 4 team play-in for a final spot.

If the UEFA qualifiers ended today, the Group winners would be Wales, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, Italy and Spain. Four of the countries would be repeat sides from the 2015 Women's World Cup except for Italy, Iceland and Wales, though for the latter two, Germany and England could respectively pip their opponents for first place—Germany and England contested the third place game at the 2015 Finals.

For second place—taking into account games against teams placed first, third and fourth—at this point, in Group 1, England has 10 points in 4 matches that count while Wales has 11 points in 5 games. Group 2, Scotland has 9 points from 4 games. For Group 3, Norway currently has 12 points from 5 games, the same as Group 4's Denmark. Sweden has 9 points from 4 games and they could be in danger of missing out on the top four second place positions if they do not win their group. In Group 5, Germany has 12 points from 5 games while Iceland has 10 points from 4 matches. In Group 6, Belgium has 7 points from 4 games. From Group 7, Austria has 7 points in 5 games while Finland has 6 points in 4 games.

The top 4 second place teams—after the June qualifiers—would be England/Wales, Norway, Denmark and Germany/Iceland, with Scotland, Belgium and Austria falling short of their chance at a World Cup bid. Scotland has a game versus Albania away on September 4 after a home match versus Switzerland on September 1. Two wins in those games could lift them past the Swiss into first and an automatic berth. The Swiss came through the second place playoffs for Canada 2015.



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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