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Crucial junction on road to China

Published: Friday 24 March 2006, 12.33CET
FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying resumes this weekend, with Germany, Norway and England on maximum points. assesses the state of play.
by Kevin Ashby
from London
Published: Friday 24 March 2006, 12.33CET

Crucial junction on road to China

FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying resumes this weekend, with Germany, Norway and England on maximum points. assesses the state of play.

FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying resumes this weekend with the five European places for next year's finals in China to be decided before 2006 is out. Only three other teams boast perfect records - UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ winners Germany, runners-up Norway and hosts England - as looks at the story so far and the big games to come, including France's pivotal trip to England.

Group 1
Norway did well to reach the EURO 2005™ final in England and have carried that form into this section, knocking in nine goals and conceding just one in winning their three matches to date. The most recent of those came against Italy, who had won their two previous qualifiers under new coach Pietro Ghedin. If the Azzurre are to top the pool ahead of Norway and seal a passage to China, it is imperative they win the return on 23 September. On Saturday, Norway travel to point-less Greece, and four days later the bottom side visit Italy.

Group 2
Sweden recovered from being surprisingly held by Iceland in their opening fixture to defeat Belarus 6-0 and Portugal 4-1. The Scandinavian team lead the section on goal difference from the Czech Republic, whose best result was the 1-0 victory against Iceland, now three points adrift, in their second round of games. There are no matches this week, but Sweden's trip to the Czech Republic on 22 April is likely to have a major bearing on the final outcome.

Group 3
Although Belgium sit at the foot of the table without a point from four games, the top four countries are separated by just one point. On Sunday the Belgians welcome Denmark, who lead the way after winning their opening two matches and drawing their most recent in Spain, with the Iberians also on seven points but having played a game more. The Danes and EURO 2005™ semi-finalists Finland were expected to dominate, but the Finns' home loss to Spain after two opening victories blew the group open, and Michael Käld's side are level on six with Poland, who have played four matches. Poland go to Spain on Thursday, with the crucial encounters between Denmark and Finland in August and September.

Group 4
Four of the five teams in the section will have breathed a collective sigh of despair when they were paired with Germany, the world and European champions. Tina Theune-Meyer may have handed over the reins to Silvia Neid but the facts remain the same: Germany are without peer on this continent. The holders have hit 13 goals in three outings, with Russia's Galina Komarova the only player to score past Silke Rottenberg, who produced further heroics last month against the United States as the Germans won the Algarve Cup on penalties. The Russians had three victories prior to that 5-1 loss, and are comfortably in second spot ahead of the Republic of Ireland and Scotland who each have a point. Ireland visit the Swiss on Saturday, with Germany's next tie at home to Ireland on 11 May.

Group 5
This pool promises to go all the way to the final match when France tackle England on 30 September. But their Sunday meeting at EURO 2005™ venue Blackburn will be just as important, with England three points clear as they have beaten the Netherlands, who surprised France 1-0 in September. The Dutch are also three points behind England, and could close the gap, at least temporarily, when they play on Saturday in Hungary - where England won 13-0.

Last updated: 24/03/06 14.17CET

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