The five must-not miss group games at the Women’s Euros in England
The wait is almost over. After a year of delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UEFA Women’s Euros are almost upon us.
Squads have been chosen, players are well on their way to intense preparations and coaches are fine-tuning their tournament plans ahead of the 7th July kick-off at Old Trafford.
It will no doubt be an exciting competition, one that is likely to continue the upward trajectory that the women’s game has enjoyed in recent years.
In the group stage, a total of 24 matches will be played, in which the 16 teams will compete for the eight places in the quarter-finals.
The English women hope to win the title of the European Women’s Championship on home soil on July 31
Teams from all over Europe are in their training camps for the kick-off of the tournament
Unlike the men’s equivalent, there are no places available for those lucky losers who finish third in their group. Only the very best will survive.
Here, sports post takes a look at the five games not to be missed as England prepare to be gripped by Euro fever for the second year in a row.
England v Austria – Group A – 7th July, 8pm BST
Not only is this clash at Old Trafford the curtain that will no doubt set the tone for the rest of the month, but it will also be Sarina Wiegman’s first game at a major tournament in charge of England.
England fans had long been excited about Wiegman’s arrival before she took charge in September and will be eager to see how her side cope with pressure from the host nation and the second favorite to lift the trophy on July 31.
Sarina Wiegman prepares to lead her English side to a major tournament for the first time
The Lionesses hope to start their hunt for a first European title as best they can when they take on Austria, the number 21 in the world.
The Austrians – with Nicole Billa, Germany’s 2021 Footballer of the Year leading their front line – will arrive in Manchester facing an upset and looking to deal an early blow to the England campaign with what would be a shocking victory.
England should have few problems getting past their Austrian opponents, but as the cliché goes, anything can happen on the international stage and Wiegman’s side will have to be calm and clinical if they are to take all three points from the tournament opener.
Holland v Sweden – Group C – July 9, 8pm
The match at Bramall Lane is the most outstanding match of all 24 matches in the group stage.
It pits defending champions the Netherlands against the team that finished third at the 2019 World Cup and last year took the silver medal at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Vivianne Miedema aims to dismiss title defenders in the Netherlands to consecutive titles
The encounter will also see two teams in contrasting stages of their development. Sweden is on the rise and has moved up to second place in the FIFA world rankings.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, is entering a new era under English coach Mark Parsons, the youngest to ever hold the top position in Dutch women’s football.
After losing Wiegman to England, it’s a very different Dutch side, although they still have world star Vivianne Miedema in their ranks.
Sweden arrives at the event in England as the Olympic silver medalists and the world No. 2
The fascinating encounter in Sheffield could be a way to decide who will win the group, which also includes Switzerland and Portugal.
France v Italy – Group D – July 10, 8pm
France is one of the most exciting teams to have qualified for the European Championship. With the experienced trio of Eugenie Le Sommer, Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry joining a host of promising youngsters, they could be the dark horses to win it.
The French will try to end a dismal record at major tournaments when they make the short jump across the channel.
Despite regularly being tipped for victory, France has finished in the quarter-finals of every euro since the introduction of the group stage in 1997. They have not made the last four of any event since the 2012 London Olympics.
France will bring several high-profile stars and promising youngsters
Italy, their first opponents in Group D, were not much better. Like France, they haven’t made it past the last eight in 25 years, with their last appearance in the final stages when they were defeated by Germany in the 1997 final.
The two sides will meet in their first match of this year’s European Championship, which is sure to be a fascinating match.
Both teams are favorites to qualify from the group and will want to set an early marker with three points from their opener.
Germany v Spain – Group B – July 12, 8pm
Group B has been given the title ‘Group of Death’ – and it’s easy to see why.
For Germany and Spain, this intriguing encounter could spell the end of their ambitions to grow out of the group towards the business end of the tournament.
Germany once dominated the Women’s European Championship, but has not won the competition since 2013
It includes one side, Germany, who has been there and done it – but not for a while – and Spain, which has consistently threatened a breakthrough at a major tournament without ever reaching it.
Germany is going through the longest period without a title since they won the first of their record eight European crowns in 1989.
The Germans were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the 2017 European Championship and the World Cup two years later, and manager Martina Voss-Tecklenburg hopes her experience by winning this competition four times will reflect on her players.
Spain has Alexia Putellas, UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, but has never beaten Germany. A first win over the German side could put Spain in control of a tricky group, which also includes Finland and Denmark.
Northern Ireland – England – Group A – 15th July, 8pm
Few expected Northern Ireland to even get this far, but here they are. They ranked 31st out of 48 qualifying entrants and suffered two 6-0 defeats to Norway – who are also in this group – before securing a place in their first major tournament.
Kenny Shiels’ side will have done well to still be in the league by the time of the highly anticipated Home Nations clash, but they will want to sign their historic entry by causing a huge shock.
England, who already hoped to have secured a spot in the quarter-finals, have won all three of their matches against Northern Ireland with an aggregate score of 15-0, highlighting the magnitude of the task ahead of Shiels’ team.
Northern Ireland has qualified for their first major tournament in women’s football
The gulf between the two sides who will take the field at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton could hardly be wider.
While many of the English players are established WSL and international stars, a large part of the Northern Ireland squad is at home at part-time clubs or on English junior teams.
For Northern Ireland, the result will be secondary – qualifying for this European Championship was more than enough – but England could need the points if their first two games don’t go according to plan.
England prepares to be gripped by euro fever for the second summer in a row