Europe’s most successful team made light work of Australia and Norway and with six different goal scorers across the two games their threat is evident. They will have a point to prove next summer with the reigning Olympic champions having failed to qualify for this summer’s Games because they did not get beyond the quarter-final stage of the 2019 World Cup. However, conceding goals against top 10 teams (and the 11th in the case of Norway) – two to Australia, one against Norway and twice in a loss to the Netherlands in February – will be a concern.
The Dutch have dropped below Germany in the race for the European title they currently hold only because of their surprise 1-0 defeat to Spain. The loss may perhaps says more about the progress of Spain as Netherlands, finalists at the 2019 World Cup, dismantled Australia 5-0. There were five different players on the scoresheet and none of them were record goalscorer Vivianne Miedema.
An 87th-minute penalty for Megan Rapinoe denied the Swedes a win over the world champions USA, which would have been a first defeat in 22 games for them. Third at the World Cup in France and runners-up at the Brazil Olympics, in their next game, against Poland, a rejigged line up was made to work hard. Sweden came from behind to win 4-2 and conceding twice after goals from the impressive Wolfsburg forward Ewa Pajor is not something to be too embarrassed by.
Hampered by the overwhelming majority of players from the European champions Lyon having to self isolate, the stand-ins stepped up and showed their value to the team. A 3-1 defeat of England may have been followed by a 2-0 loss to the USA but this was a good opportunity for under-fire manager Corinne Diacre to see the non-Lyon players tested against the best.
Their World Cup performances showed the growth the football in the country and the narrow loss to the USA in the last-16 was one of the best games of the tournament. The fluidity of Barcelona’s play as they eliminated Manchester City from the Champions League is reflected in the performances of the national team. Their defeat and clean sheet against a potent Netherlands side also showcased the solid defensive base that Jorge Vilda has built.
A thoroughly disappointing window for the hosts of next summer’s Euros. The 3-1 defeat to a patchwork France side and calamitous goals conceded in a 2-0 loss to Canada despite a squad dripping with quality highlights the scale of the job that Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman has when she joins after the Olympics. England’s record against the world’s top sides have been poor and the performances against lower ranked sides have also been worrying.
There were positives to take from the 3-1 defeat to Germany. Chelsea’s Guro Reiten gave them the lead in the fourth minute for example, but the Norwegians need to add clean sheets in their games against teams ranked in the top 10 in the world in order to step up into that pack. The comfortable 2-0 defeat of Belgium once again showed they can do that against the rest.
A goal from European player of the year Pernille Harder to draw her level with record goalscorer Merete Pedersen was not enough to give the Danes a win over Wales, ranked 17 places below them, after Jess Fishlock finished off a wonderful team goal to level the scored. Runners up at the 2017 Euros, Denmark could be a dark horse next year after missing the World Cup (in part due to forfeiting a qualifier against Sweden in a pay dispute with the Danish FA).
Many neutrals were endeared by the battling and incisive performances of the Italians at the World Cup. A solid Euro qualifying campaign which saw them earn qualification as a best group runner-up continues their growth. A narrow win and a draw in a pair of friendlies against Iceland is a warning that Milene Bertolini’s side must cannot grow complacent.
Having qualified top of their group, Belgium have performed confidently against Europe’s minnows and some middling sides. A heavy defeat to the Netherlands and 2-0 loss to Germany in February showed they are not ready to compete with the best yet. The failed to score against Norway in this window and a 14th minute goal from Tine de Caigny (the top scorer in Euro qualifying with 12 goals) was all that could separate them from the Republic of Ireland.
After two gritty score draws the Swiss overcame the Czech Republic on penalties to make the Euros. After missing their first two penalties in the shootout their chances looked bleak but goals from Everton’s Alisha Lehmann, Arsenal’s Lia Walti and Barcelona’s Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic dragged them over the line against a team ranked seven places below them in the world rankings.
Struggled in their friendly double header with Italy but the margins were narrow. They can take plenty of heart from the 1-1 draw and 1-0 defeat.
A first-leg away win in their Euro qualifying play-off against Portugal and a 0-0 home draw ensured the Russians qualified at the expense of their opponents. The manner of the progression matched their 2009 qualifying campaign when they also made the most of a first-leg away win against Scotland.
14) Northern Ireland
It is perhaps a little generous to lift them off the bottom of these rankings but the manner of their 4-1 aggregate defeat of Ukraine, a team ranked 25 places above them, means it has been well earned. Northern Ireland are the only home nation to qualify alongside hosts England for the Euros and it will be their first senior tournament finals. Driven through qualifying by influential Liverpool forward Rachel Furness, the team were without their talisman for the second leg against Ukraine but still came away with a 2-0 win.
Topping qualifying group E ahead of Portugal and Scotland, a fluke goal, deflected off the face Amanda Rantanen in the 95th minute killed Scotland’s hopes of qualification in December. They confirmed top spot with a defeat of Portugal. The team’s 2-2 draw with Austria in this window – both goals scored by midfielder Eveliina Summanen – showed further signs of progress.
They have struggled to find any consistency and have not earned back to back wins since November 2019. The Austrians finished, respectably, behind France in qualifying group G, but a 2-2 draw with Finland on Sunday shows there is still much room for improvement.