Bjarne Berntsen, coach of 2005 runners-up Norway, believes Russia will give them a stern test in UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying Group 6.
Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen will be hoping his side go one better in the 2009 UEFA European Women's Championship than last year, when they lost to Germany in the final, but is in no doubt as to who their toughest qualifying opponents would be.
The 2005 runners-up, who were last European champions 12 years earlier, face Russia, Poland, Austria and preliminary round winners Israel. And Berntsen, whose team were the first from Europe to qualify for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup earlier this year, believes Russia will be tough opponents, having shown their talent in winning the 2005 UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship.
"I think we had the strongest team from the second seeding pot in Russia," Berntsen told uefa.com. "They had a great U19 team two years ago, they are a very good side." As for the rest, he added: "I think we have an interesting draw, because we are playing teams that we have not played for a long time in some cases. I think it will be the first time against Israel and it is a long time since we played Poland and Austria, so it is a fascinating and interesting group with new teams."
Russia have brought through a number of their U19 stars in recent years, most notably the attacking combination of Elena Danilova and Elena Terekhova. A play-off defeat by Finland meant Russia missed out on the 2005 senior finals, having qualified in 1997 and 2001, and they have since failed to make the World Cup for the first time since 1995, having had the misfortune to draw Germany in their group. However, they did not drop a point in any of their other games, and in their home match against Germany fought back from three down to lose only 3-2.
Poland moved up into the top tier of European qualifying for the 2005 edition, and although they finished bottom of their group, secured an impressive 1-1 draw at home to Russia. They subsequently gained wins against Belgium and Spain in World Cup qualifying. In 2001 European qualifying Poland defeated Austria twice, but good performances four years later allowed the Austrians to enter the top tier for the 2007 World Cup, where they picked up four points against Poland.
Israel, meanwhile, are in qualifying proper for the first time, having topped preliminary round Group 2 against Latvia, Armenia and hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sarit Shenar of United States college side West Texas A&M was the star of that round with five goals, including four in the decisive 5-2 defeat of the home nation.