Euro contenders vie for last-ditch qualification

Club football took a back seat across much of the globe over the weekend with international fixtures to the fore. The spotlight fell mostly on Europe where UEFA Women’s EURO qualifying reached its penultimate round, with two more teams achieving their goal of qualifying for Sweden 2013. There was also action in other parts of the world, notably in California as London 2012 champions USA continued their lengthy welcome home tour.

UEFA Women’s EURO
Two more book passage
France and Finland are the latest nations to ensure their participation at next year’s UEFA Women’s EURO in Sweden. The pair secured qualification with a match to spare, to join the already qualified Germany and Italy, plus hosts Sweden. Finland needed just a point in Estonia, and the result was rarely in doubt as Sanna Talonen bagged a treble in a 5-0 win. France, similarly, enjoyed a one-sided win to wrap up Group 4, sweeping aside Republic of Ireland with four unanswered goals. “We’ve put our Olympic Games disappointment aside,” said Les Bleues striker Elodie Thomis, who was on the scoresheet for her fourth goal of the campaign. “We’re up for another big tournament now and this time we want to bring back the trophy.”

Play-off contenders rise
Scotland, Ukraine, Norway and Iceland assured themselves of a play-off berth over the weekend, while Russia did likewise without taking the field thanks to Poland’s 1-0 loss against Italy. They joined Netherlands, England, Austria, Denmark and Spain who have already secured a top-two finish, and at least a second chance in the play-offs to be held later this year. Scotland nailed down second with a 2-1 win in Wales, with the prolific Kim Little scoring a second-half winner. Ukraine also confirmed second spot with a 5-0 win over Belarus ahead of their rivals, as well as Slovakia, in what had been a tight section. Group 3 is the most intriguingly poised with Iceland a point clear of Norway following a 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland. Norway edged Belgium 3-2 and now must secure a win in Oslo in the final match to leapfrog Iceland into first.

All to play for
The remaining three automatic berths will be confirmed on Wednesday with England and Denmark well placed in their respective groups. Denmark need just a point against Portugal at home, but must put a surprise 3-1 loss to Austria behind them, with the improving Austrians in the play-offs for the first time. Similarly, England need a home win against Croatia to leapfrog the Netherlands and relegate the Oranje Leeuwinnen to the vagaries of the play-offs. The seven group winners plus the best second placed team will qualify automatically with the six remaining nations to play-off for next July’s 12-nation tournament.

International friendlies
Dennerby ends with a smile
Outgoing Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby concluded a highly successful seven-year tenure in style, with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands. The Dutch threatened to spoil the party holding a half-time lead, only for Blagult skipper Caroline Seger to save the day with a hand in both goals, including Kosovare Asllani’s winner.

Champs beat young Aussies
Olympic champions USA maintained their winning form amid a lengthy schedule of home matches, with a 2-1 comeback victory over Australia at the Home Depot Center. Lisa De Vanna opened the scoring for the visitors with a smart finish after some typically direct running, to leave the hosts trailing at the break. However, goals in quick succession from Alex Morgan and Shannon Boxx snuffed out the hopes of Tom Sermanni’s young side, who ended the match with eight teenagers on the field. The second of USA’s two-match series against the Matildas will take place on Wednesday, in what will be Pia Sundhage’s final 90 minutes at the helm of the Stars and Stripes.