The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Wales have been given the daunting task of taking on holders Germany in UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying Group 4 as the world champions begin their bid for a fifth continental title in a row.
Germany have won their last 25 qualifying games in the UEFA European Women's Championship and FIFA Women's World Cup, stretching back to 1998. They begin their campaign on 12 April against the Netherlands, one of three qualifiers before they defend the World Cup in China in September. Coach Sylvia Neid said: "Our goal must be to progress in this group. We want to defend our title in 2009 in Finland."
For the Netherlands, who impressed in World Cup qualification by defeating France 1-0, there is the consolation that in their most recent fixture with Germany they held them 0-0 in Berlin in 2004, the last time any European team did not lose to the continent's dominant team. However, the only other group opponents to have met them recently, Switzerland, lost 4-0 in Ulm and 6-0 at home in World Cup qualification.
Switzerland coach Béatrice von Siebenthal told uefa.com: "It is a tough group, but it was obvious from the beginning that we would be in a tough group. We have got Germany again so we can see whether we have made progress. Holland are a really good team as well. We have played Belgium and Wales in friendlies, which has turned out to be good preparation. It will be interesting and we are motivated. The aim will be to get as many points as we can, then we'll see how far we can go."
Belgium finished bottom of a tough World Cup group involving Denmark, Finland, Spain and Poland, and in 2005 qualifying lost 3-0 in two games against the Netherlands. However, Belgium coach Anna Noë is working hard to raise the level of women's football in her nation, and was in charge of the team that qualified for the 2006 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in Switzerland. But she knows this task is daunting.
'Very big test'
"It will be a very big test," she said. "It will very difficult to get any points because Germany are a long way in front of us, Holland are too strong for us, but it will be a derby, a nice game. Switzerland will be all or nothing. Last time we won the first and lost the second game in two friendlies last season. Wales are the big unknown. They won their qualification group easily and I know they are working very hard and have a good team. I think it is a big challenge for the players they will be very motivated and will have fighting spirit. We will do everything we can to get in the top three."
Wales have been away from the top level in this competition since 1995, when they suffered defeats against both Germany and Switzerland, and 2001, when they lost twice to Belgium in the second tier. However, after not entering in 2005, in this season's new preliminary round they defeated the Faroe Islands, F.Y.R. Macedonia and Kazakhstan to enter the main draw, and are captained by midfielder and former top-class triple-jumper Jayne Ludlow, who has helped Arsenal LFC to the UEFA Women's Cup final and has been voted the English league players' player of the year three times.
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