- Linda Sallstrom fires Finland to the EUROs with last-minute goal
- Spain and Italy record comfortable wins
- Austria celebrate from a distance, Switzerland reach play-offs
The group stage of qualifying for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 is complete, the direct qualification spots have been awarded and the teams contesting the play-offs have been confirmed. Northern Ireland, Russia, Ukraine, Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland will battle it out in April for the last three places at the EUROs. The three ties will be played over two legs, and the draw for these matches will be made on 5 March.
Finland back at EUROs for first time since 2013
It was Portugal of all teams who denied Finland a place at the EUROs in 2017, beating the Helmarit in the play-offs that year to reach their first major finals. Now the top two teams in Group E faced each other in a winner-takes-all encounter in Helsinki to see who would travel to England 2022 – and this time coach Anna Signeul’s side prevailed. Linda Sallstrom emerged as the hero in a scintillating match, netting the winner for Finland deep into stoppage time (90’+3) to send her team to their fourth EUROs (2005, 2009, 2013 and 2022).
“The team put in a fantastic performance,” said Signeul. “I’m really happy with how the match played out, and we coped very well defensively too.” The Finns then rounded off their campaign with a 5-0 victory over Cyprus to go unbeaten in European qualification for the first time in their history.
Meanwhile Portugal beat Scotland 2-0 in their last game to end the group behind Finland on 19 points. However, this was not enough to qualify directly for next summer’s tournament as one of the three best runners-up. Instead, coach Francisco Neto’s side will have to claim their place via the play-offs.
Lucky number 13
Five goals apiece for Esther Gonzalez and Jennifer Hermoso and another one each for Mariona Caldentey, Nerea Eizagirre and Eva Navarro wrapped up an emphatic 13-0 victory for Spain over Azerbaijan in Group D. This comfortable win gave the Spanish an unassailable lead at the top of the group standings and secured their spot at the EUROs with one game to go.
Attention then turned to the encounter between La Furia Roja and Poland, with the Poles needing to beat Spain to leapfrog the Czech Republic into second place. However, the side ranked 29th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking were unable to clinch a win as their dream of reaching the EURO finals for the first time slipped away. Poland were defeated 3-0 by the hosts at the Ciudad del Futbol de Las Rozas in Madrid, leaving the Czechs to move on to the play-offs.
One team’s joy is another’s sorrow
Like the Czech Republic, Austria were also able to celebrate from afar. With Portugal unable to beat Scotland by more than two goals after defeat at the hands of Finland, the Austrians were confirmed as one of the best three runners-up to qualify directly for England 2022 alongside the group winners. Just like Finland, Austria can look back on the most successful qualifying campaign in their history, claiming 19 of 24 points in a group that also included France, Serbia, North Macedonia and Kazakhstan while scoring 22 goals and conceding just three.
Switzerland, meanwhile, had little reason to celebrate. Coach Nils Nielsen’s side were forced to put their plans for England 2022 on ice after Italy notched up a resounding 12-0 victory over Israel in Florence to qualify directly as the last of the three best runners-up. The Swiss must now wait until 5 March to find out who awaits them in the play-offs.
What they said
“The team deserved to qualify directly for the EUROs after their best qualifying campaign of all time. Reaching the European finals again is an outstanding achievement for a small football nation like Austria. It’s great that we’ll be going to another EUROs. I’m so happy for the players and all the backroom staff. It’s also important to remember that Dominik Thalhammer’s work laid the foundations for this achievement. We are grateful to have qualified directly for the European Championships.”
Austria coach Irene Fuhrmann
Qualified as group winners / hosts: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and England
· Qualified as one of the three best runners-up: Iceland, Austria and Italy
· In the play-offs: Northern Ireland, Russia, Ukraine, Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland