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The Week in Women's Football: Euros qualifying update; WE League line-up announced; W-League sets 2020/21 schedule

This week, we look at the latest results from the Women's EUROS Qualifiers in Europe as well as news from the Asian Football Confederation as the new, fully professional WE League in Japan announces its lineup for 2021 and Australia's 13-year-old Westfield W-League has set it's calendar for the 2020/21 season as the federation plans to spend marketing dollars equally split between the W-League and A-League, along with some other news from down under, including a new franchise possibility in the W-League from New Zealand for this season, Alex Huynh joins two other Australians with Napoli in Italy and Tyla-Jay Vlajnic of Melbourne City wins a first cap for Serbia in a EUROS Qualifier.


Women's EUROS Qualifying Update

From Wednesday, October 21 through Tuesday, October 27, 34 European Championship qualifying matches were scheduled to be held across Europe, with all but two of them taking place, as Norway's match in Oslo versus Belarus on October 21 in Group C was postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, along with Estonia against visiting Slovenia in Group A on October 27. Meanwhile, also in Group C, on October 22, Wales defeated the Faroe Islands 4-0 in Newport and still retains hopes of making their first major finals tournament. Helen Ward (34), who was born in England and played for England briefly at the U-23 level, scored the winner for Wales just after the half hour mark, which was her 42nd goal for her country as the all-time goalscoring leader. Natasha Harding (31) of Reading scored twice within 3 minutes around the hour mark, followed by a debut goal from 20-year-old Lily Woodham (also Reading), which finished the scoring in a game in which Wales had 33 attempts on goal (17 on frame) versus 1 (none on frame) for the Faroe Islands. Harding has scored 5 of her side's 10 goals in the two games against the Faroe Islanders. On October 27, in a key match, Wales entertained group leaders Norway in Cardiff but fell to a Frida Maanum (21-years-old and in her fourth season at Linkopings in Sweden) goal on the hour mark to clinch a Finals spot for Norway and leave Wales (11 points from 7 matches) with a narrow advantage for the second place spot over Northern Ireland (8 points in 6 matches) and Belarus (6 points in 5 matches). Northern Ireland's 1-0 away win over Belarus on October 27 on a Rachel Furness (Liverpool in the FA Women's Championship) goal in the 42nd minute may be a crucial three points dropped by the Eastern Europeans in the final analysis.

At the end of the week of EURO qualifiers on October 27, the 2017 EURO Champions Netherlands (Group A), Denmark (Group B), Norway (Group C), Sweden (Group F) and Germany (Group I) qualified for the EURO Finals along with the hosts England of a tournament which was moved to the summer of 2022 from next summer because of the devastating COVID-19 situation. All were group winners except Denmark, which will either win Group B or finish as one of the top three runners-up and advance automatically. Denmark beat Israel 4-0 on October 21 led by two Pernille Harder (Chelsea) goals to stay perfect after eight games. The Danes then traveled to Italy and defeated the hosts 3-1 in Empoli on October 27 with a Nadia Nadim (Paris St. Germain) brace, and Italy will finish second in Group B, currently sitting on 21 points from 8 games and out of reach of third place Bosnia-Herzegovina (15 points), who have only lost to the top two in four matches but by a 13-0 scoreline. However, the gap is closing for BH in Europe and they should be proud of their campaign. Italy and Denmark will stage a return match in Viborg on December 1. Denmark has scored the most goals (48) of any team in the qualifiers and has a commanding Goals Difference (+47), the best in Europe during this campaign and +27 better than Italy.

In Group A, the Netherlands blasted Estonia 7-0 on October 23 to remain unbeaten and untied in the group. Arsenal's Danielle Van de Donk (29) and Manchester United's Jackie Groenen (25) scored braces—Van de Donk's came within a 9 minute spell early in the match. Four days later the Dutch again won handedly over Kosovo (6-0) in Pristina to remain perfect after 9 games, with Van de Donk again scoring once, along with singles from Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal), Lieke Martens (in her fourth season at Barcelona) and a hat trick from 24-year-old Katja Snoeijs, who joined Bordeaux this season from PSV Eindhoven. Russia should finish second in the group as they sit on 18 points with 2 games left, 6 points ahead of Slovenia. Kosovo are competing in their first Women's EURO and have a very impressive debut record of 10 points from 7 games, with 6 goals for and 14 against, but all of their points from 3 wins and one tie have come against bottom sides Turkey (2 points in 7 games) and Estonia (1 point in 7 games).

Germany qualified as Group I winners when second place Republic of Ireland—the only team that could catch them—lost 1-0 to host Ukraine at the Obolon Arena in Kiev on October 23. For the Irish, it was a difficult result as a draw would have clinched second place for them while Ukraine leaped back into the race for second and a chance for a play-in berth for the Finals. The best three runner-ups automatically qualify for the finals with the remaining second-placed teams going into a play-off for three more spots. Currently the Republic of Ireland is in second on 13 points from 7 matches but Ukraine then put further pressure on the Irish after defeating Greece on October 27 in Athens with a brace from Darya Kravets. Kravets is in her second season with Stade de Reims in France after playing with BIIK Kazygurt in Kazakhstan (where she won two league titles), FC Zorky Krasnogorsk and Mordovochka in Russia. In the last group matches on December 1, Ireland (13 points) is at home to Germany—who have 37 goals and allowed none in 6 games—while Ukraine (12 points) hosts Montenegro—who have 0 points from 7 games and have scored only once while allowing 27 goals. If Ukraine wins as expected, the Irish need to defeat Germany at home to finish second in the group. If Ukraine should tie, the Republic could advance with a narrow loss to Germany, as they have a superior goal differential (+3 to -6) compared with Ukraine. We have talked in past columns about the improvement and increasing potential in Central and Eastern Europe at the national team level and this Championship cycle could be remembered as a break-through moment by the Ukraine combined with a spasmodic campaign from the Republic, with Vera Pauw being appointed in September of last year—Colin Bell left during the summer of 2019 to take an assistant coaching position on the men's side at Huddersfield Town after a little over two years with the Irish but within four months was gone again to take the head job of the Korea Republic's women's national team. Painful that this is for this writer with my name and Irish roots, maybe it's time for a rethink on the coaching side for Ireland, which is still searching for its first berth at a major Finals, and look to their domestic coaches as Pauw may not be there much longer (either by her decisions or the FA's). On the other hand, Ukraine has a chance to make the Finals for only the second time, falling at the Group Stage in 2009 in Finland.

In the critical match in the Ukraine, thirty-one-year old Aine O'Gorman (Champions Peamount United in the Republic of Ireland) scored an own goal for the only tally in the 25th minute as she hit a backpass to her goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan (West Ham United) with too much pace. The Irish held the advantage in total shots (13-10) and for corners (6-1), but Ukraine had more shots on target 6-3. Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe (Arsenal) hit the crossbar with a penalty and earlier struck the woodwork with a free-kick. McCabe could have leveled the score after 33 minutes when Denise O'Sullivan (Brighton on loan from North Carolina) was brought down in the area by defender Lyubov Shmatko (FC Minsk). Fortunately for Ukraine, Shmatko was not shown a second yellow card after being booked earlier for a foul on O'Sullivan. In the second half, Ruesha Littlejohn (Leicester City in the Championship) had an effort blocked at the back post as the visitors pressed and McCabe struck a free-kick over the top. The Republic continued to attack for a late equalizer which would have locked up second in the group, with Louise Quinn's (Fiorentina of Italy this season after 4 years at Arsenal and before that in Sweden with Eskilstuna) header sailed onto the roof of the net. This very much looks like a case of massive regrets from not taking a point in the Ukraine—instead of continuing on in a chance to play in England in the 2022 Finals in front of massive support, the Irish look to be television viewers from home.

In Group D, unbeaten Spain beat the Czech Republic 4-0 on October 23 to take the lead among the 5 teams for a few days. Poland defeated Azerbaijan 3-0 the same day and, combined with their 3-0 away win over Moldova on October 27, are one point in front of Spain (14-13) at the top of the standings, with the latter also tied with Czech Republic (13 points), who defeated Azerbaijan by the same score on the same day in Chomutov; Spain crucially has played only 5 games to 7 for the other two nations. This group is very much still up in the air as far as the top two advancing on. Spain, who next face Moldova on November 27 before hosting Poland four days later in a probable group decider, also has the matter of a make-up match away against Azerbaijan from September as well; presumably it will be staged only if it will affect the final outcome of the group. Poland's and the Czech Republic's results in the qualifiers also indicate the rise of Central European nations and, besides Russia, there very well could be additional teams from Central/Eastern Europe in England in 2022.

In Group E, Scotland remain perfect after beating Albania 3-0 on Friday in Edinburgh and were a point behind Finland when they traveled to Helsinki for their crucial match on October 27, with Scotland having a game in hand. Captain and defender Rachel Corsie (Utah Royals) scored the winner in the 37th minute, while Albanian international defender Arbiona Bajraktari (24 of KF Vllaznia Shokder in Albania, who have won the last 4 league titles in the Kampionati Femrave) scored an own goal in the 76th minute and forward Caroline Weir (Manchester City) scored the third late in injury time from the penalty spot for Scotland. Portugal was two points further back after their 3-0 victory in Cyprus.

On October 27, the Finns, coached by former Scotland coach Anna Signeul (from 2005 to 2017), recorded a vital 1-0 win over Scotland, with 22-year-old Eveliina Summanen (Kristianstads in Sweden after transferring this season from KIR Orebro) scoring four minutes into the second half, throwing the group standings into some chaos. Finland now has the advantage (13 points form 5 games) over Portugal (10 points from 4 games) and Scotland (9 points from 4), with 4 postponed matches from September of this year going to be key—two each for Finland, Portugal, Scotland and Cyprus. Cyprus (0 points after 4 games and a 0-17 goals for/goals against record) are making their senior competitive debut.

In Group F, Sweden's 2-0 home win against Iceland—dovetailing with Slovakia picking up 6 points in 4 days with a 2-1 win away to Hungary on October 23 and 2-0 over Latvia at home on October 27 (with 3 of the four goals coming from Patricia Hmirova, who plays with Gornik Leczna of Poland)—has tightened the race for second place. Iceland has 13 points from 6 games while Slovakia has 10 from 6 games but Iceland has a much better goal differential (+17 to -4); however Iceland travels to Slovakia and Hungary for their last two games while Slovakia faces Iceland and Sweden in Senac.

In Group G, France secured a top-two finish on Friday by defeating North Macedonia 11-0, with Eugénie Le Sommer (Olympique Lyon) adding four more goals to her French record tally—now 86 goals, having surpassed former France international Marinette Pinchon who had retired with 81 last month—as her team joined Austria on five wins out of five. Austria gained the point they needed ensure at least a play-off on October 27 at home against France in a 0-0 draw. Both teams have two games left, including the return in France on November 27 so Austria—even on points with 16 from 6 matches but with an inferior goal difference (+21) to France (+29), which maybe too much to make up against Serbia on December 1 while France entertains Kazakhstan—still will look well placed to make their second consecutive EUROS Finals. Valerie Gauvin, born in the island of Reunion, opened the scoring for France in the first minute against North Macedonia. She has been in impressive scoring form in her first season in the WSL with Everton. Grace Geyoro (born in DR Congo) with Paris St. Germain scored twice.

In Group H, Switzerland and Belgium have qualified as the top two in the group, with Switzerland having a one point advantage heading into the final match in Leuven on November 30 between the two leaders. Belgium has a huge advantage in goal difference over the Swiss (+28 to +18) but Belgium needs to win the match to win the Group and ensure a berth in the Finals without a likely playoff.



WE League to Launch Next Year with 11 Teams

Last month, TribalFootball.com interviewed Kikuko Okajima, who is heading up the development of the new professional WE League in Japan, which is slated to launch in 2021 (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-interview-with-we-league-chief-okajima-gustavsson-named-matildas-coach-nwsl-coaching-extensions-4343045. Ms. Okajima and the WE League have now announced their 11 franchises for the inaugural season. They are:

Mynavi Sendai Ladies

Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies

Omiya Ardija

Chifure AS Elfen Saitama

JEF United Chiba Ladies

NTV Tokyo Verdy Beleza

Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara

AC Nagano Parceiro Ladies

Albirex Niigata Ladies

INAC Kobe Leonessa

Sanfrecce Hiroshima FC.

Seven of the 11 clubs are affiliated with the men's J-League, which should provide solid professional and funding support for the initial few seasons of the league, which will start in the fall of 2021. Seventeen clubs had originally applied for league status at the end of July this year. The new league will include Nadeshiko League 1 reigning women's champion Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza (17 time national champions) as well as current league leader Urawa Reds Ladies (who have won the women's league title three times in 2004, 2009 and 2014 and finished runners-up on 3 other occasions, including last season in the 10 team league).

Other current J. League-affiliated clubs to make the cut for the new league were Albirex Niigata, JEF United Chiba (J2 League) and AC Parceiro Nagano (J3 League), as well as Vegalta Sendai Ladies, who will come under full control of team sponsor Mynavi in February. Rounding out the group are perennial Nadeshiko League title contenders INAC Kobe Leonessa (who won the league championship on 3 consecutive occasions from 2011-2013), Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara (a women's football club who play in the Nadeshiko League Division 1; it's hometown is the city of Sagamihara, Kanagawa and they were promoted after winning L2 in 2016; they finished 7th last season in the top tier) and Chifur AS Elfen Saitama (founded in 1991 and has played in the Nadeshiko League since 2002, albeit they are a bit of a yoyo club between J1 and J2; they finished third last season in J2, just two points behind promoted J2 Champions Ehime and only one point behind second place Cerezo Osaka, who were also promoted last season).

WE League Chair Kikuko Okajima holds a sign displaying the names of the league's founding 11 members at the team reveal at JFA House on October 16. Photo courtesy Japan Football Association/WE LEAGUE.

Two J. League clubs will field new women's teams in 2021, with Omiya Ardija (J2 League) absorbing Nadeshiko League second-division outfit Jumonji Ventus and Sanfrecce Hiroshima launching a brand-new team to complement its three-time J. League champion men's side.

The WE League's first season, scheduled to open in the fall of 2021 and conclude in the spring of 2022, will consist of 22 home-and-away rounds with no relegation planned for at least the first few seasons. With an odd number of teams, each club will have two "bye" weeks and the league intends for teams to treat those as service days, using the time to conduct activities related to promoting the league's principles. Asked how northern clubs — Niigata, Sendai and Nagano in particular — would handle potentially inclement winter weather, Okajima said those teams could play home games in neutral venues as part of the league's strategy to promote itself in markets without established women's teams. This is an exciting advancement for women's football in Japan and we wish the effort all the best and will follow the league closely in future columns.


W-League Season Schedule and Format Announced

The 2020/21 Westfield W-League season will commence on December 27, 2020, a much later start than last season which dovetailing with the men's A-League move to the Southern Hemisphere summer, both leagues will start their new seasons on the same weekend. The women's 57 games (including three playoff matches) will end with a Grand Final in April. There had been discussion to extend the length of the season but COVID-19's devastating effect on sports franchises' finances put that plan on the back burner, at least for this season, and the 9 league clubs will again play 12 regular season matches.

TribalFootball.com will preview the 2020-21 W-League season in December and follow the league closely as always. This reporter had written about and followed the league since its start in 2008-09 and was tipped off that the league was in the planning stage by then Australian national women's team head coach Tom Sermanni (now with New Zealand) in the summer of 2007 at the Women's World Cup at China. The W-League remains a key development plank for the women's national team program in Oz as well as a destination league for international players, including some with national team caps.


Football Federation Australia institutes Equality in Spending for Marketing between the W-League and A-League

In other news, Football Federation Australia announced that it will equally split its marketing spend between the Westfield W-League and the men's A-League with the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in mind. They will be the first football federation in the world to equally balance marketing spend between their men's and women's leagues—a significant event for the game globally. Each individual A-League and W-League club will continue to market its teams and decide its own spend individually, however the FFA would spend an equal amount on advertising both competitions.

The FFA's focus on marketing expenditure has an eye on recent television viewership figures (though the spend undoubtedly will be reduced this year because of COVID-19 fan and revenue stream shortages) saw 265,000 more people watching W-League on television last year, while 305,000 fewer watched the A-League, according to Melbourne-based market research agency Roy Morgan. A record high 879,000 Australians watch the W-League on TV, up 265,000 (+43%) on a year ago, while the A-League attracted 1,748,000 viewers in total. At this rate of growth, the W-League would overtake the A-League within three years. Of course, this assumption does not factor in the huge advantage the A-League has in both number of games and number of teams, which could narrow as more clubs seek to expand into the W-League (see below).


Wellington Phoenix may join W-League this season and play in Wollongong, Australia

Wellington Phoenix is expected to join the W-League competition for the 2020/21 season as New Zealand government bailout payments to the A-League club (the only one based in New Zealand) are linked with expanding their women's program. The one last piece to a deal revolves around negotiations in the license fee payment by the club to the FFA (Football Federation of Australia). Phoenix CEO David Dome said this summer that he wanted to add women's team in the W-League. With Australia and New Zealand winning hosting rights to the 2023 Women's World Cup later in our summer, that increased the priority of the effort.

Last summer after New Zealand fell to Canada in the 2019 Women's World Cup Group stage in Grenoble, this reporter asked Tom Sermanni about the possibility of a New Zealand team joining the W-League, which he was crucial in championing before its launch in 2008/09. He said he was positive about the idea but realistically expected that the FFA was more interested in expanding within Australia, explaining that, "We've looked at the possibility of that. We would love to do it in New Zealand. From the Australian perspective, they would look at the finances and what benefit it would do for Australian football to being in New Zealand when they could bring in another Australian team, which logistically, financially and development-wise, would be better for them. Convincing them to bring in a New Zealand team is difficult." We wrote at that time that New Zealand and other teams from the Pacific Islands in the W-League would desperately help expand the game in Oceania (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-exclusive-interview-with-new-zealand-head-coach-sermanni-4287195).

COVID-19 has changed so many things in our lives, and what once seemed like a remote possibility last summer in Grenoble now looks likely to start next month. Sermanni said recently to ESPN, "The inclusion of a Wellington W-League team would be significant in the elite development pathway for New Zealand women's football and having the players together on a full-time professional basis would be a huge step forward." Because of COVID and logistics, the team will be based entirely in Australia for the season, reported to be in Wollongong in New South Wales.

ESPN also reported that new W-League entrant clubs will have to pay a license fee. Central Coast Mariners in New South Wales—who played during the first two years of the league and in addition to their A-League side, have a State League NPL first team and reserve academy squad in the NPW (State League) and have attempted multiple times to join the W-League. Western United (an A-league expansion side in 2019/20 in Greater Melbourne who, led by long-time announcer and former player Mark Rudan, finished 5th and defeated Brisbane Roar in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Melbourne City in the semifinals) had expressed interest eventually in joining the W-League and that could happen within the next year as well.

Football Ferns defender CJ Bott was excited about a possible W-League team in New Zealand. Bott, with Valerenga in Norway after playing in Sweden with surprising Vittsjo, who finished the 2019 season in third, and in Germany with Jena, said that she'd consider returning to New Zealand if the Phoenix got a professional women's team, "I think it would be the most incredible thing. The W-League is such a good league and everyone wants to play in it, so to have a team in Wellington, all of us would be fighting to be in the team. It is always a huge barrier with everyone playing in different countries around the world, so if some of us could be training and playing together regularly, that would be beneficial."

At the Algarve Cup this year, New Zealand's 22 players came from clubs in Australia (2) England (3), France (1), Germany (4), Norway (2), the U.S. in NWSL or College (5) Iceland (1), Portugal (1) and at home in New Zealand's domestic league (3). A W-League franchise in Wellington could attract current national teamers in the domestic league (veteran Striker Sara Gregorius—who has played in Germany, England and Japan in the past—among them) along with a number of Kiwis from abroad. A team from across the Tasman Sea, though based in Australia this year, would add some much needed energy to a league that has lost a vast number of Australia national team and developing players to Europe over the last year, along with an expected reduction on NWSL loanees with the North American league unsure when they will start preseason training, but it could be as early as January in 2021, depending on how COVID-19 is controlled in the States.


Western Sydney Wanderers' Alex Huynh is the third young Australian to sign with Napoli Femminile in Italy's Serie A.

Western Sydney Wanderers Alex Huynh recently signed with Napoli of Italy. Huynh went to college at the University of Colorado in America and played last season in the NSL with Souths United as well as with WSW in the W-League. She is a U-17 and U-20 Australian international and the 26-year old began her career in the W-League way back in season three (2010/11) with the Newcastle Jets. She will join up in Napoli with two of the most promising young talents in the Young Matildas set up: 23-year old Isobel Dalton (who also played at Lindsey Wilson College and the University of Colorado in the States, Bristol City briefly in England and with Brisbane Roar and Glasgow City this year) and 19-year old Jacynta Galabadaarachchi (who spent two years at West Ham United after time with Melbourne City and Perth Glory, trained with the senior Matildas squad and qualifies for Italian citizenship through her grandparents). Unfortunately, after six matches, Napoli is at the bottom of the 12-team table with only 1 tie from a 0-0 tie against 9th place Internazionale on October 3. Dalton has played in four of the matches and Galabadaarachchi in in two.


Tyla-Jay Vlajnic of Melbourne City plays with Serbia in EUROS win over Kazakhstan

Defender Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, who grew up in Australia, started and played the entire game in her debut for Serbia on October 24 in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan (see above). Vlanic (29) has played with Melbourne City for all five years of the club's existence in the W-League, primarily as a backup, and has been part of 4 Grand Final Championship teams, appearing in 9 games in 2016/17 and 7 games in 2017/18 as well as last season. She played with State League power in Victoria Calder United SC in the W-League off-seasons.



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

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