The seven FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying groups are starting to take shape after a full set of qualifiers in April, with Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and England all moving a step closer to the finals in Canada while the duels between Sweden and Scotland, and France and Finland, intensified.
UEFA.com rounds up the action; the seven group winners qualify and the four runners-up with the best records against the sides finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups go into the play-offs next autumn for the one remaining UEFA berth in the expanded 24-team finals.
Germany's 16-year unbeaten run in qualifiers was in peril in Dublin when they fell behind to a third-minute Louise Quinn goal for the Republic of Ireland, but Simone Laudehr levelled with a penalty just before the hour and Lena Lotzen made in 2-1 on 84 minutes. Stephanie Roche equalised in the last minute only for Melanie Leupolz, like the previous two scorers a substitute, to break Ireland's hearts by clinching a 3-2 victory from distance.
Germany went on to see off Slovenia 4-0 in Mannheim and with seven perfect wins and 47 goals, they are 12 points clear of Russia, who beat Slovenia 4-1 and Croatia 1-0 and have three games in hand. Ireland are two points behind Russia whom they host on 7 May, a day before Germany face Slovakia and Slovenia play Croatia.
Spain drew 0-0 in Italy, the visitors having an 11th-minute Verónica Boquete penalty saved by Laura Giuliani. However, since Spain previously overcame the Azzurre 2-0 at home, they look to be heading for a first World Cup finals, especially after defeating the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 10-0 with hat-tricks from Sonia Bermúdez, now on ten goals in qualifying, and Jenni Hermoso.
Italy, who prevailed 2-1 in Romania, are six points behind with a match in hand, though thanks to their head-to-head record, Spain need only two wins from their trips to Estonia on 8 May, and Romania and the Czech Republic in September. Italy visit FYROM next month knowing at least four victories from here would secure a play-off. The Czech Republic, in third, beat Estonia 6-0 and now tackle Romania on 7 May.
Switzerland are even closer to a first major qualification after they defeated Malta 11-0 with a Lara Dickenmann treble and then on Thursday came from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Denmark through Ramona Bachmann's 64th-minute penalty, not long after Line Røddik had scored on the rebound from her saved spot kick. Iceland won 1-0 in Israel and 8-0 in Malta, yet are seven points shy of Switzerland with two games in hand.
On 8 May Switzerland entertain Iceland in Nyon knowing a victory would leave them in sight of Canada having previously won in both Reykjavik and Denmark. The same day Denmark, in fourth and four points behind Iceland, play Serbia; the previous afternoon third-placed Israel are in Malta.
Sweden and Scotland maintained their perfect records ahead of their first group meeting on 14 June in Motherwell. Scotland, coached by Swede Anna Signeul, beat Poland 2-0 courtesy of Lisa Evans and substitute Leanne Crichton, and they came from behind with a second-half Jane Ross hat-trick to triumph 3-1 in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a sixth perfect win.
Sweden's fourth victory came 4-0 with goals from Kosovare Asllani, Lotta Schelin, competitive debutant Emma Lundh and Lina Nilsson in Northern Ireland ; they will aim for a fifth in the 8 May return in Vaxjo.The Faroe Islands made a bit of history as they secured their first two points in top-level qualifying, holding Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-1 and Northern Ieland 0-0. They next welcome third-placed Poland on 8 May.
Norway may not be top but their 2-1 success in Belgium, with goals from Ingvild Stensland and Ada Hegerberg either side of half-time, put them on five wins out of five despite Aline Zeler pulling one back late on. The Netherlands, who have also lost at home to the 1995 World Cup winners, occupy pole position after prevailing 6-0 in Greece and 10-1 against Albania, Renée Slegers scoring five goals, but they are only a point in front of Norway having played two games more.
Belgium are third, three points behind the leaders with a match in hand as they host the Netherlands on 7 May, the same day Norway play fourth-ranked Portugal, 1-0 victors against Greece on Wednesday.
England moved a step closer to the finals as they saw off Montenegro 9-0 in front of nearly 9,000 fans in Brighton, Toni Duggan scoring a hat-trick in Mark Sampson's first competitive game in charge. They were further helped when Ukraine dropped their first points with a 1-1 draw in Wales, Natasha Harding equalising on 78 minutes for a side who last Friday won 5-1 in Turkey, Jessica Fishlock scoring three. On Thursday, Montenegro led Belarus at one stage but eventually fell 7-1.
Wales are five points adrift of the summit and three ahead of Ukraine, who have two games in hand and visit England on 8 May before a 19 June return in fixtures that should decide the group. Also next month, Wales receive Montenegro and Belarus play Turkey.
Like in Group 4, two teams still have perfect records. France are up to sx wins, thrashing Kazakhstan 7-0 – Gaëtane Thiney hitting two to go clear as qualifying top scorer on 11 – and overcoming Austria 3-1. Élise Bussaglia, Marie-Laure Delie and Élodie Thomis got the goals in an eight-minute first-half spell against an Austrian side who had triumphed 6-1 in Bulgaria
Finland, meanwhile, have five victories, defeating Hungary 4-0 away and at home, Sanna Talonen notching a treble and then two goals. The top two do not meet until September; next up France welcome Hungary on 7 May and Finland go to third-placed Austria on 18 June.
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