The road to the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup begins in earnest today as Russia play the Republic of Ireland in the first of the European qualifying matches. This continent's 25 most powerful nations were split into five groups of five at a draw in Switzerland on 18 March, with the section winners advancing to the finals in China.
The eight nations which contested this summer's UEFA European Women's Championship will all be involved, with some even being drawn together. Denmark and Finland were paired in Group 3 with Spain, Poland and Belgium. Norway and Italy are in World Cup qualifying Group 1 along with Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro and Greece.
Team to beat
The world and European champions Germany will be the team to beat in Group A, representing formidable opposition for Russia, Switzerland, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, while Sweden will prove equally tough to conquer in Group 2 for Iceland, Czech Republic, Portugal and Belarus.
La Manche derby
France denied England a place in the last finals in the United States with a play-off victory, but the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ hosts will have a chance to exact revenge in Group 5. The Netherlands, Hungary and Austria complete the quintet. The Austrians - along with the Irish, Belarus, Greece and Israel - are newly promoted to the championship groups after their performances in WOMEN'S EURO qualifying.
Below the five top groups are three promotion/relegation pools containing four nations. The group winners and best runners-up will play off with the five bottom teams from the First Division for the right to qualify for the 2009 WOMEN'S EURO. Slovenia enter for the first time, while Northern Ireland return having last competed in 1991.
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