The UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 will take place in England next summer and the tournament suddenly feels a whole lot closer now that the group stage draw has been made.
The competing countries have in front of them their respective maps to glory. But competition is so fierce and it is incredibly tough to predict who will rise above the rest to go all the way.
Here’s a look at the top eight contenders in with a chance of lifting the trophy…
Despite failing to qualify for any World Cup since 2007 and only one since 1999, Denmark have a bizarre habit of putting good runs together when it comes to the European Championships instead.
The Danes got to the semi-finals in 2013 and were runners-up last time in 2017. They also have one of the world’s best players in Chelsea’s Pernille Harder, who is complemented by a capable support cast.
The biggest challenge will be getting out of a group that also contains very strong Spain and Germany sides. If they can get one over on either of those, they could be another surprise package, but it will be extremely tough.
Norway will be expected to qualify for the knockout stages from Group A ahead of Austria and Northern Ireland. But that would likely mean facing Germany, or slightly better case scenario Spain, in the last eight.
They have talented players, a good blend of domestic-based stars and those at clubs further afield in England, Spain, Italy and Sweden, spearheaded by Barcelona superstar Caroline Graham Hansen.
There is potentially an opportunity to cause an upset, but a quarter-final exit, which would be an improvement on a winless group stage elimination in 2017, feels about right for this team.
For all of the incredibly talented players they have had, France have probably underachieved on the international stage over the last 10 years, having failed to reach a semi-final since the 2011 World Cup.
Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer are still some of the very best around but are all now over 30. Others in and around the squad are much younger and/or lack international experience, which points to a slight imbalance.
Never write the French off, but their past record doesn’t suggest success is suddenly about to fall into place.
Spain are the new force in women’s international football. They have been threatening a breakthrough for some time and made eventual champions United States work hard for a 2-1 victory in the World Cup last 16 in 2019.
A considerable number of the Spanish contingent play together at club level for a superb Barcelona side. Even though they haven’t ever quite done it before on the international stage, that alone makes them hugely dangerous.
Midfielder Alexia Putellas has been the best player in the world in 2021, while they have quality right the way through the team. The only thing that may hold Spain back is a lack of clear depth beyond those Barcelona stars.
Writing off Germany is always a mistake, but the rest of Europe has closed the gap on the eight-time former champions, who won six Euro tournaments in a row between 1995 and 2013.
The Germans only reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2017 and again at the 2019 World Cup, which had a knock-on effect of denying them a place at the Olympics. This year alone, they have also lost friendlies against Netherlands and France, as well as failing to beat Chile.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a good German team. It is. Most of the squad is based in the Frauen Bundesliga, which is a strong league. But the level of competition internationally, where once perhaps lacking, is now so strong.
Having emerged as a real international force between 2015 and 2019, England arguably started going backwards after the last World Cup, with tactical systems not working and repeat weaknesses flaring up in games.
A change in manager from Phil Neville to Sarina Wiegman, via interim Hege Riise, should freshen things up – Wiegman was the coach overseeing all of the recent Dutch success so it bodes well in that respect.
England do have considerable quality, with players like Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze legitimately world class. The rest of the squad is filled with a good blend of talent, which, if coached right, could be very, very good. The Lionesses also have the added benefit of home advantage here.
Netherlands are reigning European champions from 2017, before then going on to reach the World Cup final two years later.
It underlines their rapid growth as a top tier nation, having never even played at a major international tournament before 2009.
They won’t have home advantage at these Euros, which arguably played a role in their success last time, while coach Sarina Wiegman has also moved on to take charge of an England side looking to achieve that goal. But the Dutch will always score a lot of goals and are a match for anyone on their day.
It feels as though Sweden have been building towards something special over the last five years and this could be their opportunity for everything to come together for a first tournament triumph since 1984.
The Swedes finished third at the last World Cup, sandwiched between two Olympic silver medals. Their performances in Japan over the summer, particularly as they demolished the United States in the first game, were widely praised and they actually finished unbeaten owing to the gold medal match against Canada being decided on penalties.
The squad has a strong blend of youth and experience from veteran legends like Caroline Seger and Nilla Fischer, to players like Fridolina Rolfo, Stina Blackstenius and Lina Hurtig in their prime, to very young but equally important talents like teenager Hanna Bennison.
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