A preview of Tuesday’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 Qualifying fixtures involving the home nations plus the Republic of Ireland, as well as a glance at Scotland, whoˡren’t in action this week.
These qualifying stages involve 40 teams, split into eight groups of five, with fixtures scheduled over a year until September 2016. Each group winner progresses, joined by the six best runners-up. The final two runners-up will contest a play-off game to decide which one will reach the finals. All 15 teams then join the Netherlands, who will host the tournament, next summer.
Kazakhstan v WALES (10.00 GMT)
Manager Jayne Ludlow has spoken of her players’ motivation to emulate the men’s side and qualify for the European championships, yet Walesՠroute to the Netherlands is not a particularly straightforward one. Austria and Norway lead the way in Group 8, tied on 12 points in first and second, compared to the Dragonsՠtotal of four from four games, which leaves them lagging behind in third. Their only win so far has come against rock-bottom Kazakhstan, a thumping 4-0 triumph in which Reading˦orward Helen Ward hit a hat-trick, and they֬l be seeking a repeat performance in the reverse fixture in Shymkent. After defeats against the current top two made for an unpleasant opening to their qualifying campaign, Wales will be disappointed not to have made up some ground on the leaders after they could only draw 2-2 with Israel in December Рwho themselves lie only two points beneath them. As well as Ward, the Wales squad includes her Royals team-mates Claire Skinner, Charlie Estcourt and Rachel Rowe, as well as Liverpool duo Natasha Harding and Sophie Ingle, Nadia Lawrence and Kayleigh Green, both of Yeovil Town, Angharad James of Notts County, Rhiannon Roberts of Doncaster Rovers Belles, plus Hayley Ladd and Loren Dykes of Bristol City. Theyֲe not down and out yet, but Ludlow will have to mastermind something special while relying on the front-runners to drop points.
Bosnia-Herzegovnia v ENGLAND (15.00 GMT)
As the third-highest ranked European side and favourites to head their group, it may have been somewhat surprising to see Englandֳ winning streak in Group 7 promptly halted by a Belgium side who took top spot as a result. A mistake by իeeper Karen Bardsley of Manchester City allowed the visitors to take the lead before Jill Scott, team-mate for club and country, came to her rescue with a late equaliser Рher third goal of the qualifying stages. An emphatic 8-0 win against Estonia, in which Chelsea star Fran Kirby scored twice, started Englandֳ campaign with a bang but their following two games, a 1-0 win at home to Bosnia-Herzegovnia before the draw with Belgium, havenִ quite lived up to that scintillating beginning. Yet Mark Sampsonֳ women have reason to remain confident; that Janice Cayman goal for Belgium was the first time they have conceded at this stage so far, while both Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovnia remain below them despite playing more games. The usually reliable Bardsley is expected to keep her place as England face off against Bosnia again,ˤetermined to get back on track and claim another three points from their opponents. As Belgium are at home to Estonia on the same day, however, itֳ likely that, as they sit a point above England, they wonִ be replaced as leaders this week.
Italy v NORTHERN IRELANDʨ17.00 GMT)
At first glance, Northern Ireland are in the worst position out of all five nations. Theyֲe languishing in fourth place in Group 6, way behind leaders Switzerland, who have a 100% record so far. But they have only played two qualifying games, the lowest total of any of the teams at this stage, after last weekֳ home game against the Czech Republic was postponed when a traffic accident rendered travelling to Lurgan impossible for the players as well as the fans. Northern Ireland do already have a win under their belts, and their lack of qualifying action so far gives them plenty of time to climb the league; second-placed Italy, for example, have won two and lost two of their four qualifying matches. After their opening 3-0 victory away at Georgia, however, they were thumped 8-1 on their own turf by the Swiss, and face a tricky encounter in Reggio Emilia against the Italians, who they could well draw level with should they harvest all three points. Amongst Alfie Wylieֳ squad are Chelseaֳ Laura Rafferty and Rachel Furness of Sunderland, as well as Doncaster Rovers Belles’ Emma Higgins, Sarah McFadden and Julie Nelson of Durham, Ciara Sherwood of Millwall Lionesses, Aston Villaֳ Hayley Crackle and Evertonֳ Simone Magill.
Spain v REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (17.00 GMT)
Group 2 is topped by Spain, who have taken 15 points from nine games, so it looks as though the Irish will be competing with Finland for second spot. Both countries are currently level on points but the Republic of Ireland have played one game more, while˴heir qualifying campaign began with a 2-0 defeat to the Finns. Additionally, as itֳ only the six top runners-up who proceed automatically, both the Girls in Greenˡnd Finland face a more difficult battle than the likes of, say, Ukraine (10 points) from Group 3, as their˳ix-point total makes them one of the lowest-scoring sides currently occupying second place in their league. Sue Ronanֳ ladies have a good record against the countries below them in the group, beating Portugal away from home and firing five past pointless Montenegro to enable them to focus fully on the challenges ahead, but today they travel to the league leaders, having lost 3-0 at home to them back in November. Arsenal stalwart Emma Byrne is the Republic of Irelandֳ number one between the sticks, and with her in the squad is team-mate Katie McCabe, plus Megan Campbell of Man City, Niamh Fahey of Chelsea, Grace Moloney of Reading, Fiona O֓ullivan of Notts County and Stephanie Roche of Sunderland.
When it comes to qualifying for the Euros, the Scottish ladies are putting the men to shame. Gordon Strachan and his side had their Euro 2016 hopes dashed last October after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser against Poland, and their supporters will be the only ones in the British Isles not travelling to France this summer. In stark contrast, the women are in pole position to wrap up their place in the Netherlands for next year, as they sit pretty at the top of Group 1 by six points with a better record than any of their other four neighbours. Scotland have won every single one of their five matches so far, one of eight teams to do so. Scoring 27 goals and conceding just twice means they have the second-highest goal difference out of all 40 nations Рdue, in part, to 7-0 and 10-0 victories over Belarus and FYR Macedonia respectively Рwith only two-time World Cup winners Germany bettering them. Manchester City striker Jane Ross is the leading goalscorer of the qualifying stage so far with eight goals, two of which came against Slovenia in last weekֳ 3-1 win. Also in the squad for their last match were Arsenal’s Emma Mitchell, Leanne Crichton of Notts County, Liverpool’s Caroline Weir and Chloe Arthur of Bristol City. Victory over second-placed Iceland in June will see Anna Signeulֳ ladies take one step closer to sealing their Euros spot, but their opponents have also won all of their games so far and have two extra fixtures still to play, the first of which is a trip to Belarus today.