Two-time FIFA Women's World Cup winners Germany are among the teams kicking off their bid to qualify for the 2015 finals in Canada this weekend.
Europe's 42 hopefuls are competing in seven groups between now and next September, with only the section winner guaranteed a ticket to the final tournament. Two games start the action on Friday as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia entertain Romania and UEFA Women's EURO 2013 quarter-finalists Italy go to Estonia, before the main bulk of matches are played the following day.
Germany, world champions in 2003 and 2007 but eliminated in the 2011 quarter-finals before clinching a sixth straight European title in Sweden in July, host a team knocked out in the continental group stage, Russia. Sweden, semi-finalists on home soil this summer and 2011 World Cup bronze-medallists, welcome Poland to Malmo; while for the first time in 15 years someone other than Hope Powell manages England as caretaker Brent Hills begins their attempt for a third straight global qualification against Belarus.
Also on Saturday, preliminary round qualifiers Albania face their debut fixture at this level, away to Belgium. Another side that got through for the first time in April, the Faroe Islands, make a Sunday bow against Scotland, themselves denied a first finals appearance – at Women's EURO – by a last-gasp Spain goal ten months ago.
More games are played next week: 1995 winners and 2013 European runners-up Norway are at home to opponents that impressed in EURO qualifying, Belgium, on Wednesday, when new France coach Philippe Bergerôo takes his team to Kazakhstan. The following day sees ten matches including Iceland against Switzerland in Group 3, which also features EURO semi-finalists Denmark whose campaign starts in the next full set of fixtures in late October.
As well as the seven group winners booking finals places, the four runners-ups with the best record against the sides finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups go into the play-offs for the one remaining UEFA berth in Canada – these are held on 25/26 and 29/30 October and 22/23 and 26/27 November 2014. The finals, with an increased entry of 24 nations, take place from 6 June to 5 July 2015 in Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottowa and Vancouver.
Group 1: Germany, Russia, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Sovenia, Croatia
Group 2: Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Group 3: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Serbia, Israel, Malta
Group 4: Sweden, Scotland, Poland, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Faroe Islands
Group 5: Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Albania
Group 6: England, Ukraine, Belarus, Wales, Turkey, Montenegro
Group 7: France, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan
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