Mid-June saw a loaded slate of UEFA World Cup Qualifying matches, 32 in all, with 14 games on June 14 and two more on June 15. Three days later, another round resumed with four matches on June 18 and 12 on June 19. The teams now break until the third week of August, when eight qualifiers will be held.
One UEFA qualifier for next summer’s World Cup is now set as Switzerland has qualified from Group 3. They remain undefeated (8-0-1) for 25 points with one game left and an insurmountable gap over Iceland (13 points from seven games) and Denmark (12 points from seven games). Switzerland clinched their spot with a 9-0 home win over Israel on June 14th and Denmark’s tie with Iceland the next day. The Swiss had braces from former Atlanta Beat striker Ramona Bachmann, Vanessa Burki (Bayern Munich) and Fabienne Humm (Zurich FC) against Israel.
Switzerland then traveled to Serbia on June 19th and again won handedly 7-0, with Bachmann and Humm each scoring once while Olympique Lyon’s Lara Dickenmann (ex-Ohio State University) recorded a brace. Frankfurt’s Ana Maria Crnogorcevic chipped in with one goal. A successful World Cup should raise the profile of the Swiss contingent and ultimately see more Swiss players sign to play in the NWSL in the future.
Denmark and Iceland tied in Vejle, Denmark, on June 15th with goals from Iceland’s Dora Maria Larusdottir (Valur) and Denmark’s Johanna Rasmussen (ex-Atlanta Beat and majicJack in WPS and now with Kristianstads of Sweden). Karoline Smidt Nielsen (Fortuna) scored twice in the Danes’ road win against Israel, 5-0, on June 19th. Florida State University midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir scored once in Iceland’s June 19th 5-0 home win over Malta, while Elin Jensen (Valur) scored twice. Iceland hosts Denmark on August 21st and another tie would be very damaging to Denmark’s hopes to finish second. Iceland finishes at home in September against difficult Israel (9 points from seven games) and Serbia (7 points from eight games); Denmark hosts bottom Malta (0 points from eight games) and Israel in their last two matches. Second place is rewarded in four of the seven groups with semifinals and a final playoff for one last UEFA spot in Canada.
In Group 1, Germany is close to clinching a World Cup berth, as they have won all eight matches (24 points) and won a prestigious friendly last week in Vancouver over Canada, 2-1. Russia is now five points ahead (16 points total) of the Republic of Ireland (11 points total) for second place, with both having played seven matches. The Irish still have to play Germany away, but—except for a complete meltdown—the Germans should be back in Canada again next summer, with Russia now favored to make the second place playoffs.
n June 14th, Glasgow City’s Denise O’Sullivan scored an injury time winner against Croatia for a 1-0 victory or Ireland would have been even deeper in the hole ahead of their long trip to Russia. Croatia had played a bunker, heavily defensive style during the entire game in Dublin.
“Croatia set out to frustrate us from the first half by time-wasting and I was starting to lose my composure,” O’Sullivan said. “I just couldn’t understand why they tried to play for a draw; that’s something we’d never try to do in any game. But I was always confident we’d score. We didn’t panic, kept our shape and the chance finally came at the end.”
Head Coach Sue Ronan agreed with O’Sullivan’s assessment of Croatia’s approach: “Croatia wanted a dogfight and the referee didn’t help by being lenient on their time-wasting. We were much the better side over the game and it would have been a major disappointment not to have got the win our performance deserved.”
It was O’Sullivan’s eighth international goal with the assist by Irish-American Fiona O’Sullivan, who now plays in Germany with Freiburg. For Croatia, Helenna Hercigonja-Moulton–who grew up in the U.S., is finishing college in Croatia and hopes to play this fall in Germany–marshaled the defense. Russia held the Irish to a scoreless draw at home on June 19th, which puts Russia in the driver’s seat to finish second behind Germany.
In Group 2, Spain and Italy have always been the class of this group. After eight games, Spain leads the Italians by three points (22 to 19) with a strong advantage (+13) in the goal differential column. The two leaders do not play each other again, with Spain needing just three points from road games in Romania on September 13th and the Czech Republic four days later, to clinch a World Cup debut, even if Italy defeats Estonia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia–both of which Italy will host. Former Sky Blue FC’s (WPS) Patrizia Panico captained Italy and scored twice in their 4-0 away win over the Czech Republic on June 14th.
In Group 4, former Chicago Red Star (WPS) forward Kosovare Asllani scored twice for Sweden in their 3-1 win in Scotland on June 14th. Swedish captain Caroline Seger (ex-Philadelphia Independence and Western New York Flash in WPS and who has recently joined Paris St. Germain on a two year contract)—scored for Sweden. Seattle Reign’s Kim Little scored the lone reply for the Scots. Both teams have 21 points but Sweden has a game in hand, and plays Poland away next on August 21st. Little tallied again in Scotland’s 2-0 win in Belfast against Northern Ireland on June 19th, with Jane Ross of Vittsjo of Sweden also scoring. Lotta Schelin (Olympique Lyon) scored twice and Seger scored again in Sweden’s 5-0 road win versus Faroe Islands, also on June 19th. The two leaders play in Sweden on the last group qualifying day on September 17th, when Sweden should need only a tie at most to advance, though the second place team from this group should advance to the playoffs.
In Group 5, Norway leads the Netherlands by five points (24 to 19 points), with each having played eight matches. Norway is likely to clinch the group with a win in Albania on September 13. The Netherlands have to defeat Portugal at home on September 13 but even if they do, their away match versus Norway four days later may be academic. Netherlands should have second place secured however with a six point advantage over Belgium, who have fallen off the pace with two consecutive losses and only four points out of a possible twelve from their last four games, with the Dutch also holding a vastly superior goal differential (+34 to +11).
In Group 6, England just needs one point from their last two games to win the group and an automatic World Cup berth: an August 21st match away against second-place Wales or to bottom side Montenegro on Sept. 17th, which is also on the road. England has 24 points to 19 for Wales, with both having played eight matches. Ukraine has 10 points from six matches and hope that their home match against Wales on September 17 will still have implications for who finishes second.
Wales beat Turkey at home 1-0 on June 14th, with Seattle Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock captaining the side and Sarah Wiltshire (Watford in England) scoring. Natasha Harding (Bristol Academy of England’s FA WSL) scored a hat trick for Wales in their 3-0 win against Belarus on the road on June 19th.
Former WPS veteran forward Eniola Aluko (Chelsea) scored in England’s 3-0 win over Belarus away on June 14th, while U.S. raised and former WPS goalkeeper Karen Bardsley recorded the shutout. Aluko scored the ultimate the winner early (14th minute) against Ukraine (2-1) on June 19th in Lviv, with Arsenal’s Casey Stoney also scoring.
In Group 7, France has 21 points from seven matches and played the U.S. tough last week in a 1-0 loss in Tampa and a 2-2 tie in Hartford. Finland has 18 points from seven games, with Austria trailing in third with 15 points from eight games. Austria’s 3-1 win over Finland in Wiener Neustadt on June 14th gives them hope that they can capture second place in the group. Houston Dash’s Nina Berger played 90 minutes against Finland, while goals from Lisa Makas and Nadine Prohaska (both with Spratzern in Austria) plus an own goal, powered Austria. Berger scored against Kazakhstan in a 3-0 away win on June 19, with Nicole Billa (Spratzern) scoring the other two goals. Finland plays leaders France home and away in September after traveling to Bulgaria on August 21st, while Austria hosts Hungary and Kazakhstan, so second place is very much alive in this group.
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