Two-time UEFA European Women's Championship winners Norway may still be lurking in qualifying Group 3, but it is Wednesday's meeting between Belgium and Iceland that has all the makings of a first-place decider.
Iceland, aiming to repeat their 2009 qualification, made the first move in the section with a 3-1 win against Norway in September, only to be held 0-0 four days later in Reykjavik by Belgium. Although Belgium then lost 1-0 at home to Norway, the Scandinavian side's subsequent defeat in Northern Ireland left them reeling. Belgium drew 2-2 with Northern Ireland in mid-April and now lie second, within two points of unbeaten Iceland, who have a game in hand going into Wednesday's rematch in Dessel.
Victory would leave Iceland in complete control of the group despite still having to visit Norway, and striker Margrét Lára Vidarsdóttir is delighted with how things are going. "We have been playing well," the 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam forward told UEFA.com. "We have a really good defence and a good goalkeeper, so it is hard to score against us usually. So if we keep a clean sheet, we always score in a game, and that is enough.
It doesn't matter how you win: if you win and get the three points, that's the maximum."
Belgium's much-improved, youthful line-up will present a challenge to that aim, however. "They have been getting better and better, and they have a really good team, so it is going to be a hard match for us," Vidarsdóttir said. "But if we win in Belgium then we are in a really good position, and we know that, so we are going to do everything we can to win that game and get into the position we want in the group."
Belgum's fine run, under new coach Ives Serneels, was perhaps unexpected, particularly following the retirement of key players including Femke Maes. "She was the best player in our team, of course," said 21-year-old midfielder Lien Mermans. "Actually, it isn't just Femke but also another couple of older players like Marijke Callebaut. An older generation has finished and now there are some new young talents, but we certainly have faith that we can do well with this team."
One experienced player who remains is forward Aline Zeler, and she knows that the odds have been upset in their section. "I expected more from Norway, but I think Iceland are stronger," she said. "In terms of football, they have everything: strength, football, vision. Yes, I was a bit disappointed in Norway. I expected more. But not that I am afraid of Iceland."
Mermans, who admits Belgium had "a bit of luck" in their draw in Iceland, also struck a confident note. "
We believe in our own capacities, certainly with home advantage," she said. "But we don't have to win; that would perhaps be too ambitious, but we will certainly try."
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