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The Week in Women's Football: UEFA World Cup qualifiers; Canada vs Mexico

This week, we look at the international window from late last month, focusing on the UEFA 2023 Women's World Cup Qualifiers to update the 9 groups after anywhere from half to three quarters of the matches have been played, depending on the group. We also look at two friendly internationals in Mexico, with Canada coming away with a loss and a draw against Mexico and we look at the reasons why.

UEFA 2023 Women's World Cup Qualifiers

For the international window in late November, we do a quick review of the status of each of the 9 groups as the qualifiers now break for the winter, resuming next spring.

In Group A, Sweden won two games—a crucial 2-1 win over neighbors Finland on November 25 and then a less stressful 3-0 victory over Slovakia on November 30—both games were at home in Gothenburg and Malmo respectively. Lina Hurtig (Juventus of Italy) and Frida Rolfo (Barcelona of Spain in her first year—scoring four goals in ten league games—after two seasons in Germany with Wolfsburg) each scored a goal in both matches.

The Republic of Ireland—after their surprising and well-earned 2-1 win away over Finland last month—stumbled at home against Slovakia in a 1-1 draw at home at Dublin's Tallaght Stadium but then blasted Georgia 11-0 on November 30, with North Carolina Courage midfielder Denise O'Sullivan leading the way with a hat trick, along with two goals and two assists from Arsenal's Katie McCabe—who has four goals in eight WSL games this season. Slovakia's eighteen-year-old Maiko Bebia put the ball into her own net to give Ireland an early lead in the 4th minute and then was dismissed in the 69th minute for a second yellow card. The win was the largest ever margin of victory for the Republic of Ireland women and the first time they had scored in double digits in a senior women's international.

Denise O'Sullivan took the match ball home

Republic of Ireland midfielder Denise O'Sullivan scored three times against Slovakia in a home Women's World Cup Group A qualification match on November 30, 2021. Photo courtesy Football Association of Ireland.

Sweden looks to be a lock for a WWC 2023 automatic spot as group winners with 15 points from 5 games, while the Irish have a one point lead over Finland (7 points vs. 6 points, with both playing 4 matches). Slovakia looks to be fading out of the running with 4 points from 5 games and Georgia is last with 0 points after 4 matches.

In Group B, Scotland gained only one point in their two matches in late November—drawing with Ukraine 1-1 on November 26 at Hampden Park in Glasgow and then being spanked by Spain 8-0 in Seville, with braces from Amaiur Sarriegi Isasa (Real Sociedad) and Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona). Spain showed that they are the class of the group and should be a strong challenger for the semifinals at least in the 2023 FIFA WWC Finals in Australia/New Zealand. Spain now leads Group B with 15 points from 5 games while Scotland has 10 from 5 games. Despite the poor results in their two most recent games, Scotland should finish second to retain a chance through the playoffs of a second consecutive WWC as Hungary has 6 points from 5 games and Ukraine 4 points from 4, after losing to Hungary 4-2 in Kisvarda on November 30.

In Group C, leaders Netherlands dropped two points on the road to the Czech Republic on November 27 in a 2-2 tie. Katerina Svitkova (West Ham United of England) gave the Czech's the lead in the 10th minute, with a thirty meter blast from out on the right side that tucked into the far top corner of the goal just over the veteran goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal's (PSV Eindhoven) leap. Svitkova is in her second year with the Hammers after winning four league titles at home with Slavia Prague. Danielle van de Donk (in her first season with Olympique Lyon in France after six seasons with Arsenal in England) tied up the match for the Dutch five minutes after the restart but Simona Necidova (Slavia Prague) gave the home side the advantage again on the hour mark and it took central defender's Stefanie van der Gragt (Ajax, after spells with Barcelona of Spain and Bayern Munich of Germany) scoring with a nifty header in the box in the 3rd minute of the six minutes of added time in the second half to secure a share of the points for the Dutch.

Netherlands leads Group C with 11 points from five games, with Iceland second on 9 points from four games, after a 4-0 road victory in Larnaca over Cyprus on November 30. The Czech Republic is third with 5 points from four games, followed by Belarus with 4 points from three games and Cyprus with 1 point from six matches. The November 30 match between the Czech Republic and visiting Belarus in Opava in northeastern Czech Republic was postponed until 2022 as three Belarussian players tested positive for the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Belarusian football association head Vladimir Bazanov and his wife reportedly have been released from police custody and ordered to leave the country. Police previously said the two were suspected of violating the country's coronavirus restrictions. If the Czech Republic had hung onto the victory over the Netherlands, along with an expected victory over Belarus, they could now be on 10 points—one more than Iceland with one more game in the books—but now the Netherlands and Iceland seemingly will fight it out for the top spot.

In Group D, in October, new England head coach Sarina Wiegman said that England's 10-0 win over Latvia over Riga did neither team any good (see: The Week in Women's Football: UEFA World Cup qualifiers; Asian Cup set; AFCON qualifers - Tribal Football). So explain to me why England doubled the score line on November 30 with a 20-0 dismantling of Latvia in Doncaster? The 20-0 win broke the record set by Belgium (19-0 win over Armenia) during the international window for the highest scoring WWC qualifying win. Wiegman again felt that the result is a disservice to women's football, but her pleas sound hollow and insincere, particularly in these small groups when goal difference could be a deciding factor on advancing to a Women's World Cup or not. Wiegman said after the home tie against the overwhelmed Latvians, "You want competitive games and these are not competitive games. You want to develop the well-developed countries and the countries that are not that far along. In every country, you want to develop the women's game, but I don't think it's good that the scores now are so high. I know that has the attention of the federations and UEFA and FIFA, and I think that's good because I don't think a 20-0 is good for the development of anyone." Well, she could have encouraged her side to pull back in the last 15 minutes, when they scored 6 goals. Latvia only had 14% ball possession in the game. The idea that UEFA and FIFA is now aware of the issue seems quite disingenuous and self-serving. During this qualification cycle, there have been 29 games with margins of 7 goals or more—ranging up to 20 goals. UEFA's head of women's football, Nadine Kessler and a former international with Germany, said in October: "The qualification systems for the World Cup and Euro, which UEFA organizes and not FIFA, are already going to be examined very closely and we will see an improvement in the future. I think we need to really take a look closely to have more evenly matched matches, but also to have some opportunities to still see where's the bar and to compete against the very best." This was a non-statement if I ever heard one. Perhaps a rule could be implemented that a win only counts for 8 or 9 goals in the differential calculation, no matter how many goals are scored, which should see a resultant decrease in these runaway scores, and reduce the penalty of goal difference on the lower ranked teams. Again, the current format of one top team, one or two fighting for second and the others struggling could be changed to a tier format like the men's Nations League to allow the developing nations to playoff against each other and then advance to play-in matches against a tier higher than them.

England starters Lauren Hemp (Manchester City, who has scored three goals in eight WSL games this season) scored four goals against Latvia, plus three goals each were added by Beth Mead (Arsenal—with four goals in eight WSL games this season) and Ellen White (Manchester City with one goal in eight WSL games) as well as second half substitute Alessia Russo (Manchester United, who has three goals in eight WSL games this season). Mead also chipped in 3 assists to go with her hat trick. England had a much tougher match on November 27 in Sunderland, defeating Austria 1-0, with Ellen White scoring the only goal 6 minutes before the end of the first half.

Northern Ireland had a good weekend as well and also scored 20 goals—but across two games with North Macedonia, wining 11-0 in Skopje on November 25 and then 9-0 in the return in Belfast on November 29. Kristy McGuinness (Sion Swifts and who also plays Gaelic Football in Antrim County) scored a hat trick in the second match and Simone Magill (Everton in the WSL—with two goals in three matches this season) added a goal and four assists. In the first game away, Magill scored four times with Rachel Furness (Liverpool in the English Women's Championship) scoring three times and adding an assist.

England has virtually clinched the Group and advancement to the WWC Finals with 18 points from 6 games and a 53-0 Goals For/Goals Against record. Austria and Northern Ireland are tied for second on 13 points from six games, with the Central European side having a slightly better goal difference (+25 to +24). Luxembourg (3 points from 5 games), North Macedonia (3 points from 6 games) and Latvia (0 points from 5 matches) are lagging behind. Austria tied Northern Ireland 2-2 last month in Belfast and it looks like the second place berth will come down to the return fixture on April 7, 2022. Both teams face England at home but also have Latvia (Austria at home and NI away) to boost their goal differentials (please pray for the Latvians).

In Group E, Denmark defeated Russia in Viborg 3-1 to now control an edge over the Russians in the race for the Group title. Denmark is perfect on 18 points from 6 matches while Russia has 15 from 6 points with the one loss. Montenegro is third on 9 points from 6 games, but their hopes evaporated after a 1-0 loss in Baku on November 30 to Azerbaijan, with Aysen Ohmedova (21)—who plays with Rubin Kazan in Russia—scoring the only goal of the game in the 24th minute. On November 26, the Montenegrins defeated Malta 2-0 away. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Malta are tied on 4 points—both with poor goal differentials of -15 and -12 respective—while Azerbaijan has 3 points, with all six teams playing six games to date.

Group F is a very interesting group and one to watch in the final UEFA qualifiers next year. Belgium defeated bottom place Armenia 19-0 at home on November 25 in Leuven, with Tessa Wullaert (now at Anderlecht and formerly at Manchester City and Wolfsburg) scoring 5 goals—and hat tricks from 21-year-old Amber Tysiak (OH Leuven) and Tine De Caigny (Hoffenheim of Germany this season after moving from Anderlecht). Poland defeated Kosovo in Pristina 2-1 on November 25, with all the goals coming in the first 35 minutes of the match but Poland then lost to Belgium 4-0 on November 30 in Lueven. In their remaining matches, Poland plays Norway away but Armenia and Kosovo at home and Albania away; the Poles must win those three matches and maybe pull a point off of Norway and hope that Belgium slips up. Norway leads the group on 16 points from 6 games after a 10-0 away win over Armenia on December 1, and Belgium is second on 13 points, with both teams playing six matches. Poland stands third on 11 points from six games, with Albania fourth on 7 points after six matches—gaining six points from their two games against neighboring Kosovo in their group matches—who have 4 points after six matches and Armenia is last with 0 points from 6 games.

Group G saw separation between the top two and the other four sides along with a rather surprising result on November 26 as Switzerland defeated Italy in Palermo 2-1. Coumba Sow (in her third season at Paris FC in France after winning five league titles with FC Zurich) and Ana-Marie Crnogorcevic (in her third season with reigning WCL title holders Barcelona) scored within the opening 20 minutes of the first half and then limited Italy to a Barbara Bonansea (Juventus in Italy) goal on the hour mark. The Swiss then followed that up with a 7-0 away win over Lithuania on November 30, with Sow scoring a brace. Switzerland and Italy were in the same group for the 2017 UEFA Women's Euro qualification group, with Switzerland winning the group by 6 points over Italy, but both teams qualified to the finals in the Netherlands. Italy went on Voluntari on November 30 and returned home with a 5-0 win over hosts Romania—with Cristiana Girelli of Juventus scoring three goals and Bonansea adding a goal and an assist. Romania had previously won four days earlier, 3-0 over Moldovia in Mogosoaia.

Switzerland is undefeated with 18 points from 6 matches, while Italy is second on 15 points from six games. Romania has a lot of ground to make up as they are on 9 points from 5 games and must pull points off the leaders next year—at home against Switzerland and traveling to Italy—while Croatia (4 points), Lithuania (1 point) and Moldova (0 points) have played 6, 5 and 4 games, respectively and still have a number of games to improve their standing and FIFA ranking for future events.

In Group H, Germany is nearly home and dry with 18 points from 6 games, but the race for second could be very interesting as Portugal defeated Israel 4-0 on November 25 at home in Portimao with a hat-trick from Carolina Mendes—who plays with Sporting Lisbon since 2018-19, after time in Italy, Israel, Sweden and Russia—and two assists from Ana Borges, who is also with Sporting Lisbon and formerly played in the WSL with Chelsea. Portugal then lost to Germany 3-1 at home in Faro. Serbia picked up a quick six points with a 3-0 home win over Bulgaria on November 25 and 4-1 in the return 5 days later in Plovdiv as Bayern Munich's Jovana Damnjanovic (27) scored two goals in each game, after scoring one in seven games this season in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Kudos to Turkey for battling back to defeat Israel 3-2 with two goals in second half injury time, the first by Dilan Taskin (Horn of Austria's second division) in the 93rd minute and midfielder Ebru Topcu (ALG Spor of Turkey) scoring the winner in the 98th minute from the penalty spot.

Portugal is second on 13 points from 6 games in their bid for a first ever WWC Finals berth while Serbia has 9 points from 5 games and Turkey is on 7 points from 5 games and both are still in the frame for a second place final spot and the chance of a playoff berth for the World Cup. Israel and Bulgaria are joint fifth with 0 points after 5 games and a similar GD (-17 to -19).

In Group I, France—as Germany is in Group H—seems to be in cruise control for winning the group with a perfect 18 points from 6 games, but the second place spot is up for grabs between Wales and Slovenia, though the later tied at home in Nova Gorica against Greece 0-0 on November 30, after winning at home in the same venue four days prior against Estonia 6-0. Wales defeated Greece in Llanelli 5-0 on November 26 but fell to France 2-0 four days later in Guingamp. Wales is second with 13 points from 6 games, two points ahead of Slovenia (11 points from 6 games) and the Slovenians two dropped points against Greece may be a big factor in determining which side finishes in second place

Canada loses 2-1, then ties 0-0 with Mexico in Mexico City

In the first of two friendlies in Mexico City on November 27, Mexico scored a goal in each half and held on to a late Canada assault on goal to win 2-1. Mexico was awarded a penalty in the 18th minute as Vanessa Gilles collided with Mexico's Diana Garcia (Monterrey) in the box. Stephany Mayor (Tigres UANL and ex-Por/KA of Iceland) scored from the penalty spot. Mexico doubled the lead in the 76th minute when a free kick was played into the Canadian penalty area and goalkeeper Kaelin Sheridan made a tremendous stop but failed to hold the rebound and Alicia Cervantes (Guadalajara) had a tap-in header to make it 2-0. Cloe Lacasse had an opportunity to score on her full international debut in the 80th minutes as she was played through into the box and found herself one-on-one with Mexico goalkeeper Itzel Gonzalez (23) of Club Tijuana, who was able to make a strong save. Canada pulled a goal back in the 86th minute as Quinn dribbled before playing a chipped cross into the middle of the box. The first header popped up and Jordyn Huitema followed it up to slot the ball into the bottom left corner. Both Victoria Pickett and Player of the Match Cloé Lacasse made their debuts for Canada while Marie Levasseur and substitute Sura Yekka returned to the Women's National Team lineup for the first time since 2017 and 2015, respectively. For the 20-year old Huitema, it was her first goal of the season and 14th of her Canadian Women's National Team career. Canada put strong pressure on the Mexican side in the final five minutes of the match as they sought the equalizer. In the 89th minute, Sophie Schmidt played a ball over the top of the Mexican defense and into the path of Deanne Rose, creating a two-on-one Canadian attack; Rose sent a hard, square pass to Lacasse who was all alone on the other side of the goal, but there was too much pace on the pass and Lacasse skied her shot. In the fourth minute of added time, Chapman's pass into the box found Sophie Schmidt, but her shot attempt was well saved by Itzel Gonzalez in goal. The ball bounced around in a dangerous area before a Huitema header was finally caught and controlled by Gonzalez The loss ended Canada Soccer's Women's National Team's record 12-match unbeaten streak from April 9 to October 26, 2021.

For Mexico, midfielder Alexia Delgado, who just completed her collegiate career at Arizona State University, started the first game and came in as a substitute in the 46th minute of the second game. She has now played an even dozen full internationals and will weigh her professional options of playing in Mexico or looking to go to Europe. Myra Delgadillo (25) was born in California and played at Fresno State Bulldogs; she started overseas at Spartak Subotica in Serbia and is now with Braga in Portugal. Anike Rodriguez (24) also was born in California, played at UCLA and is now with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands. She was on the Portland Thorns roster for the 2020 Challenge Cup and played for U.S. U-17 national team. Kenti Robles (30) has been Spanish-based for years and is now with Real Madrid. Greta Espinoza was born in Tijuana and played collegiately at Arizona Western and Oregon State University; professional she played with Levante in Spain and is now with current champions UANL Tigres.

Before the second game, midfielder Jess Fleming and head coach Bev Priestman talked to the media about the loss in the first game. Fleming explained that, "We were playing in a new formation [with three backs]. There were also some new players in the squad and those new partnerships take time." To change the tone in the second game, she said that Canada needed to bring a fighting mentality, "Which is so essential to our game, winning the first or second ball." Pristman added, "No way are we ending our year with a loss to Mexico." She explained that partially he squad was, "Not used to being the hunted," while their Olympic Gold Medal win this summer has flipped the script in terms of their traditional underdog status. She is committed to continuing to add the three back formation as an option that they can draw on because, "We needed more experience and tactical learning behind the people that we have. We will use the system in the future."

Canada Soccer's Women's National Team finished their memorable Olympic Gold Medal year with a 0:0 away draw against Mexico in the second of a two-match friendly series in Mexico City, Mexico on November 30. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan posted the clean sheet while midfielder Desiree Scott was Canada's Player of the Match. Canada had a slight edge in possession (53%) and had 10 shots on goal, half of them on target, while Mexico had five shots with one on target. For Mexico, 23-year-old American-born goalkeeper Emily Alvarado (23), who plays with Stade de Reims in France; she has 10 starts this season for the mid-table side which is seventh of twelve sides in the French top tier league with a 3-2-5 W-D-L record and 13 goals scored with 23 goals surrendered. Alvardo is from the border city El Paso and played collegiately at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas and in the summer WPSL with SouthStar FC in Fort Worth.

After the second game, Priestman said, "We got to assess some players and that's the biggest take home with these new players learning our system and stepping in. We gained some experience that we can draw upon and be ready to carry into qualification and beyond with great learnings to apply when it really matters." She did admit to some frustration with capturing one point out of the six on offer against Mexico, particularly as Canada had 21 shots in 2 games and only one goal, though Canada has always been a defense first side, and not a side likely to pop off three or more goals other than on an occasional basis and usually against a much lower rated side (scoring only 2 or more goals in just 4 of their 17 games this year), saying that, "With the year that we had, I'm frustrated that you leave the end of the year feeling like this, but it's what I've asked the players, we have to keep this hunger and desire in our stomach now and get ready to enter 2022 and really take that next step forward. She also felt that the opportunity to experience the difficult environment of the Mexico City altitude, "was never a bad thing."

Portland Thorns Christine Sinclair (#12) is surrounded by three Mexican players in a November friendly in Mexico City, all with Mexican Liga MX Femenil power UANL Tigres in Monterrey: from right to left, #14 Cristina Ferral (ex-Olympique Marseille of France and the University of South Florida), #10 Stephany Mayor (ex Thor/KA in Iceland) and #6 Nancy Antonio. Photo courtesy Canada Soccer Association.

The draw closed out an incredible year in which Canada posted seven wins, seven draws and only three losses along with a Women's National Team record 12-match unbeaten streak and a world title at the Olympic Games Finals in Tokyo.

Canada Soccer's Women's National Team will kick off the 2022 season in February at a new invitational tournament in England with matches against England on February 17, Germany on February 20, and Spain on February 23.

Among the newer faces called into Canada's November camp for the games, Amanda West from the University of Pittsburgh has been called into the Women's National Team for the first time while Sura Yekka from Havre AC in France has been called up for the first time since 2015 and came on as a second half sub in the first match and started the second match, being subbed off in the 55th minute. Others called in for more experience with the nats included: Sabrina D'Angelo of Vittsjö GIK in Sweden, Cloé Lacasse of SL Benfica in Portugal, Marie Levasseur of Fleury FC in France, Victoria Pickett from Kansas City Current in the NWSL, Jade Rose from Harvard University, Nikayla Small from Wake Forest University and a late addition in forward Jenna Hellstrom from Orebro in Sweden, where she scored four goals this past season to lead the club.

GK- Sabrina D'Angelo | SWE / Vittsjö GIK
GK- Stephanie Labbé | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
GK- Erin McLeod | USA / Orlando Pride
GK- Kailen Sheridan | USA / NJ/NY Gotham FC
CB- Kadeisha Buchanan | FRA / FCF Olympique Lyonnais
CB- Vanessa Gilles | FRA / FC Girondins de Bordeaux
CB- Jade Rose | USA / Harvard University
CB- Shelina Zadorsky | ENG / Tottenham Hotspur
FB- Allysha Chapman | USA / Houston Dash
FB- Ashley Lawrence | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
FB- Marie Levasseur | FRA / Fleury FC
FB- Sura Yekka | FRA / Havre AC
M- Jessie Fleming | ENG / Chelsea FC
M- Julia Grosso | CAN / University of Texas at Austin
M- Victoria Pickett | USA / Kansas City Current
M- Quinn | USA / OL Reign
M- Sophie Schmidt | USA / Houston Dash
M- Desiree Scott | USA / Kansas City Current
M- Nikayla Small | USA / Wake Forest University
F- Jordyn Huitema | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
F- Cloé Lacasse | POR / SL Benfica
F- Nichelle Prince | USA / Houston Dash
F- Deanne Rose | ENG / Reading FC
F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC
F- Evelyne Viens | USA / NJ/NY Gotham FC
F- Amanda West | USA / University of Pittsburgh

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 yours copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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