Women’s European Championships – Preview

This month sees the biggest contest in European women’s football take place in Sweden. Many might be quick to knock it but the female game has improved beyond belief over the past decade and this tournament is likely to provide ample evidence of that.

Germany have lifted five of the last six tournaments that have taken place and as a result it is hard to look past them as favourites. Despite missing several first team regulars the Germans are still the team to beat – such is the depth of their talent. If doubters had questioned whether they would still be the same force with these injuries then the recent 4-2 friendly win over world champions Japan should provide enough evidence to quash that theory. Further to this there is still no shortage of star players; striker Celia Okoyino da Mbabi scored 17 goals in qualification and midfielder Simone Laudehr is amongst the world’s best midfield players.

Having been beaten finalists in 2009 England will be dreaming of going one step further this time round. The English domestic game continues to go from strength to strength and with it as do Hope Powell’s side. The squad is packed full of major tournament experience in the likes of Casey Stoney, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey, whilst the return of the inspirational Kelly Smith should prove a major positive. For these players time is running out in regards to winning a major championship and they will need to take that final step sooner rather than later, further to that a recent 4-1 defeat to hosts Sweden has raised doubts about England’s credentials. That said with the excellent Women’s Super League now into its third year they should only continue to improve as time goes on and this might just be England’s time.

The Swedes will feel that with home backing behind them they have as good of a chance as anyone to upset Germany. Having previously been one of the dominant forces in Women’s football throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s they have somewhat been through a period of lull following the break-up of that team. There is now however a belief that a new golden generation might be on the horizon with third place at the last World Cup highlighting that the likes of Caroline Seger and Lotta Schelin could lead them into a new era of success.

France are another nation who will be keen on causing an upset – they won all eight games in qualification and finished in fourth place at the World Cup in 2011. The hugely successful Lyon squad that won the Champions League in both 2011 and 2012 contributes a large proportion of their squad; with Camille Abily, Louisa Necab and Euginie Le Sommer the most notable of these. Bruno Biri has overseen their recent rise to prominence and he again leads them in Sweden and it might just be that France are ready to take their ascent to new heights.

Outside of the nations above, Italy have reached the quarter finals in each of the three previous tournaments and with a world ranking inside the top ten they will be hopeful of at least matching that effort, they eased through qualification without conceding a goal and having only narrowly missed out on the World Cup in 2011 they could cause a significant shock or two here. Norway also qualified as group winners and bring with them a rich history in major tournaments having finished third and runners up at the previous two tournaments, although a failure to get beyond the group stages at the 2011 world cup and a less than perfect qualification route here suggest they might be hard pressed to match their previous efforts. Denmark and Finland were the two other group winners in qualification, however the draw has pitted both in the so called group of death alongside Sweden and Italy, meaning reaching the last eight will be a challenge in itself.

That group aside the first round is largely forgiving given that of the twelve sides competing just four will exit at this stage, meaning the chances of an upset are considerably reduced. The Netherlands though proved that things most certainly do not always run to the script as they reached the semi-finals on their tournament debut and having only narrowly missed out on automatic qualification to England there is enough to suggest they could make their presence felt in the later stages again.

With Women’s football continuing to improve at such a rate there is every chance that this tournament could prove the most competitive yet and whilst Germany are the undeniable favourites, this is perhaps the most open the tournament has been given the holders current injury list. For anyone who still denies the increased quality of the women’s game viewing this tournament with an open mind will undoubtedly change such a view.