This week we check in on the UEFA World Cup Qualifiers this month, which should some more separation between the top teams and the chasers in the seven groups. Norway did not have a WWC qualifier this month but staged a high profile friendly versus Canada. We also look at some more coaching changes from the NWSL with two shocking appointments. One huge benefit at the end of this week is that there are now 3 women head coaches of NWSL teams; last season there was one and after Laura Harvey left Seattle a few weeks ago, there were none. A heady week indeed for opportunities for women at the top of the technical side of the game.
European World Cup Qualifying Update by Group
The last UEFA Women's World Cup matches of 2017 were played from November 23 to November 28; there are starting to be sizeable gaps between the leaders in the seven groups which contain five teams each.
In Group 1, England defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 4-0 in Walsall on November 24, with squad captain and defender Steph Houghton (Manchester City) scoring twice, including a 19th minute winner. Nikita Parris (Manchester City) and Fran Kirby (Chelsea) scored the other goals. The same day Wales defeated Kazakhstan 1-0 in Cardiff, with the winning goal coming late (83rd minute) from Hayley Ladd, who plays at Arsenal.
On November 28, Wales again won full points by a single goal over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica from 29-year-old Kayleigh Green (Yeovil Town in WSL) in the 58th minute. Also on November 28, England defeated Kazakhstan in Colchester 5-0 with two goals from Nikita Parris and one from Melissa Lawley (both Manchester City). Two strikes came from second half substitutes Fran Kirby (Chelsea) from the penalty spot and Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City).
Wales (10 points from 4 games) and England (9 points from 3 games) have created a wide gap over Bosnia and Herzegovina (3 points from 3 games), Russia (1 point from 2 games) and Kazakhstan (0 points from 4 games).
In Group 2, Poland won 4-1 away over Albania on November 24. Agnieszka Winczo (33) of Unia Raciborz of Poland scored a brace. On the same day, Switzerland beat Belarus 3-0 at home in Schaffhausen. On November 28, Switzerland hosted Albania in Biel and came away 5-1 winners to take all six points on offering across the five days. Florijana Ismaili (Young Boys Bern), a twenty-two-year old of Albanian descent, scored twice. Ramona Bachmann (Chelsea), Viola Calligaris (Atletico Madrid) and Rahel Kiwic (Potsdam) scored as well for the winners while Qendresa Krasniqi (Hajvalia of Kosovo) scored Albania's lone tally.
Switzerland sits atop the table with 12 points from 4 matches, with Scotland (6 points from 2 matches) and Poland (6 points from 3 matches) in a position to make up ground next year over the Swiss, attempting to make the Women's World Cup for the second consecutive time, after their debut in 2015.
In Group 3, the Netherlands continued their unbeaten run on November 24 with a 5-0 away win over Slovakia. Stephanie van der Gragt (Ajax) and Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal) both had braces while Twente midfielder Sherida Spitse chipped in one goal.
Four days later, Netherlands hosted the Republic of Ireland and the match ended in a scoreless draw, which probably helps the Irish more than the Dutch at this point. Also on November 28, Slovakia entertained Northern Ireland in Zilina and the visitors went home with an important 3-1 win. Julie Nelson (Durham WFC after time with Everton, Glasgow City, in Iceland and at home with Crusaders) scored in the first half to offset an early goal from Slovakia's Jana Vojtekova (Neulingbach of Austria). Caragh Milligan (Glentoran) and Rachel Furness (English-born and currently plays with Reading) tallied in the second half to secure the points.
Both the Netherland and Republic of Ireland top the table with 7 points from 3 games, with the Dutch having a better goal difference (+6 to +4). Idle Norway is a point behind with 6 points from 3 games [but played a home friendly against Canada—see below]. Northern Ireland has 3 points from 3 games and could still make things difficult for the top three while pointless Slovakia has only 2 goals for and 16 against in their 4 games.
In Group 4, Ukraine took an important three points on the road against Hungary, with Daryna Apansachenko (Zvezda 2005 in Russia) scoring a late winner four minutes into injury time.
Denmark and Sweden top the group after 2 games played with 6 points, while Ukraine has 4 points from 2 matches. Croatia (2 points) and Hungary (1 point) from 4 matches each may have too much ground to make up in the quest for a first-ever Women's World Cup berth in France in 2019.
In Group 5, on November 24 in the battle of two sides at the bottom of the group table with 0 points, Slovenia defeated visiting Faroe Islands 5-0, with 19-year-old Lara Prasnikar (contracted to Potsdam of Germany after previously playing at home with ZNK Rudar Skale) scoring a hat trick.
Germany leads the group with 9 points from 4 matches, while the Czech Republic and Iceland are tied for second on 7 points, with Iceland playing only 3 games to the Czech Republic's 4. Slovenia has 3 points from 3 games and the Faroe Islands have no goals and have allowed 32 from their four matches.
In Group 6, on November 24, Portugal bounced back from a 1-0 defeat to Belgium last month and blasted Moldova 8-0 in Setubal, with 21-year-old Vanessa Marques (Braga) and 27-year-old Carole Costa (Sporting) both scoring hat tricks
On November 28, Romania bested Moldova in Bucharest 3-1. Andreea Voicu of Olimpia Cluj scored twice while Eugenia Miron of Noroc in Moldova scored for her side as well as an own goal for Romania. On the same night, Italy captured three crucial road points on a 1-0 win on Daniela Sabatino's (Brescia) 37th minute goal.
Italy is perfect from 4 matches with 12 points as is Belgium with 9 points from 3 matches. Portugal and Romania are tied with 3 points from 3 and 4 games respectively. Moldova has scored once and has given up 28 goals and is pointless from their 4 matches
In Group 7 on November 23, Austria defeated Israel 2-0 at home with goals by Sarah Puntigam (SC Freiberg in Germany) and Nina Burger (the ex-Houston Dash striker who now plays at Sand in Germany). Last summer's UEFA Finals hero Manuela Zinsberger (Bayern Munich) recorded the shutout in goal. On November 24, Spain won 2-1 on the road in Serbia. Jenni Hermoso's (Paris St. Germain) early goal (13th minute) was cancelled by Nevena Damjanovic (Fortuna of Denmark) in the 78th minute. Patricia Guijarro (Barcelona) scored the winner in injury time.
On November 26, Finland defeated Israel 4-0, with forward Linsa Sallstrom (Linkoping of Sweden) scoring a brace. Home-based players Emmi Alanen (Kokkola F10) and Kaisa Collin (PK-35) each scored once. On November 28, Spain defeated Austria at home by the same score, a reverse of their quarterfinal loss this summer on penalties at the European Championships in the Netherlands. Alexia Putellas and Patricia Guijarro (both Barcelona) scored within the first 16 minutes and then goals from French-based Irene Paredes (Paris St. Germain) and Virginia Torrecilla (Montpellier) either side of halftime allowed Spain to cruise to an important win.
Spain has 9 points from 3 matches while Austria and Finland are second with 6 points, with Finland having a game in hand (3 games played for Austria versus 2 for Finland). Serbia (3 points) and Israel (0 points) from 4 games each will struggle to gain points off of the top three.
Canada rallies for 3-2 win over Norway
Canada's Women's National Team came back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Norway 3-2 inan international friendly. The host side Norway had a comfortable 2-0 lead at half time through 26-year-old defender Ina Gausdal (Kolbotn of Norway) and 22-year-old forward Caroline Graham Hansen's (Wolfsburg of Germany) goals, but Canada stormed back with three goals within a 15 minute span after intermission and had a 3-2 advantage by the 66th minute. Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Janine Beckie (Houston Dash) and Adriana Leon (Boston Breakers) fueled Canada's first ever win over Norway. The countries have had close connections, as two-time former Norwegian women's national team head coach Even Pellerud guided Canada for eight seasons, departing after the 2008 Olympic Games, Canada's first appearance at the event in which they have finished third in the last two competitions.
Head Coach John Herdman said after the game: "That was our first win against Norway in Canada's history, so a great way to end the year. I think the main thing tonight was seeing what level of performance this team can push to when challenged. At about the 20 minute mark we started finding a rhythm, we shifted some things tactically and it was about getting the midfielders on the ball. I felt we were way too forceful from our back four, so once we got [Sophie] Schmidt (Frankfurt) and [Ashley] Lawrence (Paris St. Germain] on the ball the momentum changed. We were a lot more aggressive in the second half, playing right up against them, and forced them into a lot of errors, but the credit is to this group: they said they were going to do something today and they absolutely committed at half time and they did what they said they would do."
Currently ranked fifth in the FIFA World rankings, Canada finished 2017 with a 7-2-3 record, including a draw and a loss to the world's top ranked Americans earlier this month, while posting wins against Norway, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Mexico and two against Costa Rica, as well as a second place finish at the 2017 Algarve Cup.
Laura Harvey is appointed head coach of the new Real Salt Lake City NWSL side while Vera Pauw, a native of the Netherlands who has coached three national sides, takes over the Houston Dash.
Probably most surprising of the two coaching hires this week was Harvey's appointment in Salt Lake City, as many thought she would be on a national team staff either in the U.S. or in England. She admitted that coaching at the international level is still a dream of hers in a meeting with the press this past week but she likes the day to day work of a club coach. Though she had some dialogue with England FA after leaving Seattle a few short weeks ago, it didn't sound like there was an imminent offer and she is dedicated to the NWSL, for which she has coached every season since its launch in 2013. She explained her decision:"The facilities and environment that we will be able to offer our players are world-class. This is a great place for me to continue to develop as a coach, and I believe we will be able to make a huge stamp on women's soccer not just in Utah but nationwide." (The team announced its name later in the week as Utah Royals F.C.) She also referred to her move to Salt Lake City as: "not her original direction" when she left the Reign; indeed the franchise was not even in existence at the time. She called the situation where Vlado Andonovski taking over her previous club in Seattle (she had recommended him to ownership) and she now being in charge essentially of the FC Kansas City players whose rights have been shifted to the Utah Royals as: "the ultimate trade."
The British-born Harvey played football for the Coventry City L.F.C. At age 22, Harvey tore her ACL while playing for Birmingham City L.F.C., and turned to coaching. Before coming to the Seattle Reign in 2013, Harvey served as assistant coach for the England women's national football team at the U-17, U-19 and U-23 levels from 2005-2011. She then was brought on as Manager of Arsenal L.F.C., where from 2010-12 Arsenal was the 2010 FA Women's Premier League Champion, the 2011 FA Women's Cup winner, the 2011 and 2012 FA Women's Super League Champion, and the 2011 and 2012 FA WSL Continental Cup winner. For her efforts, Harvey was named Women's Super League Coach of the Season in 2011.
In Houston, the Dash made a major move to solve the turmoil around its coaching position, naming Vera Pauw of the Netherlands as their head coach for 2018, a welcome appointment after sticking with Randy Waldrum for three plus years and then appointing first year head coach Omar Morales as interim coach. The team improved under Morales is the only NWSL team besides the Boston Breakers to never make the playoffs, despite having midfielder Carli Lloyd, FIFA Women's Player of the Year/Best FIFA Women's Player in 2015 and 2016 and runner-up this season. Former Dutch international player Pauw (54), who played professionally in Italy, led South Africa's Women's National Team to the 2016 Olympics and the semifinals of the CAF Championships in 2014. Pauw said: "I'm very excited.It's just a dream come true, isn't it? To be able to be coach and play in facilities like BBVA Compass Stadium and in such a competitive league. Soccer is an evolving sport here in the U.S. with a unique background, and I am very excited about the opportunity ahead to work with a very talented roster. We have a solid core of players that will be key in reaching our goals for 2018 and beyond."
Specifically on the difference in coaching in the NWSL versus a European league she said: "It [NWSL] is a special league, it is organized by the association and I know there are also downsides to that, but especially the biggest advantage is that the teams are competitive. The association takes care of more or less the best level with the best players we can get and the opportunity to build on the quality and bring in the players that you miss. It is exciting, it is the league with the best players in the world divided over teams is something else than in Europe where few teams have all of the players and they play in leagues where they win 10-0 or 12-0 on a weekly basis. So those clubs are less attractive to me than the place of the future
Her goals for the 2018 season should hearten Dash fans: "Of course we need to go for the playoffs, after you get to the playoffs anything can happen. The thing is you need to take it game by game and every game you have to go in to win. You have to set the strategy to win and the thing is and it is one thing I would like to discuss is if you really take yourself seriously as a league you should allow the teams to have a long preparation because playing at the top level is about creating teamwork and creating teamwork takes time, so that will be something that I would like to add – the knowledge of building from where you are already, because you have the best players, you have the best opportunities, you have the best league and all of those little things I might be able to add."
Houston Dash Defender Janine Van Wyk, who joined the NWSL this season and knows Pauw well from her time as Captain of the South African Women's National Team, said: "I have worked with Vera Pauw for two and a half years and she is probably the best coach I have ever worked with in my career. What I admire most about her is her professionalism, organization and her knowledge of the game. She is able to bring out the best in every single player. I'm excited to work with her again."
She was the first female to earn the UEFA Pro License from the Royal Dutch Football Association in 2005, passing with the highest rates ever obtained. Pauw coached Russia's Women's National Team in 2011 and her home country the Netherlands from 2004-2010, guiding them to their first major tournament, the 2009 UEFA Women's European Championship, where they finished third. She also was technical director and head coach of Scotland's Women's National Team. She had 89 caps for her country.
With Denise Reddy at Sky Blue and now Harvey and Pauw, the NWSL has an all-time high of three female coaches for their ten teams. Let's hope that number continues to grow as other jobs open up in the seasons to come.
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