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Six Women's EURO 2022 games to get excited about

Put these dates in your diary for July's final tournament.

England and Northern Ireland will face off in their last group game
England and Northern Ireland will face off in their last group game The FA via Getty Images

Historic match-ups, finals debuts and heavyweight contests: UEFA Women's EURO 2022 promises plenty of excitement even before the knockout stage begins.

We pick out six dates that should be circled in red in every football fan's diary.

England vs Austria (Trafford, Group A): 6 July, 21:00

Wiegman on England's EURO draw
Wiegman on England's EURO draw

The last time England hosted the Women's EURO finals in 2005, the official opening game at Manchester City attracted a tournament-record 29,092 crowd, a mark only broken in the 2013 final when 41,301 watched Germany beat Norway in Solna. Both those marks are likely to be shattered when the action gets under way at Manchester United, even if the record will probably only stand 25 days until the Wembley final.

Both teams at Old Trafford can take some good omens from that 2005 curtain-raising game. England delighted the home fans with a dramatic 3-2 victory clinched in added time by 17-year-old Karen Carney. That seemed to be a huge blow to the losing side, Finland, who had only just fought back from two down to level, but when the group ended, it was the finals debutants who finished second ahead of the hosts, and advanced to the semis.

Austria made the last four on their own finals bow in 2017, the same stage that England reached in the Netherlands; with Norway also in Group A, both teams know a defeat would leave them with an uphill struggle to at least replicate that run from last time out. England go into the game having beaten Austria 1-0 in a FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier in Sunderland on 27 November.

Germany vs Denmark (London, Group B): 21:00, 8 July

2017 highlights: Germany 1-2 Denmark
2017 highlights: Germany 1-2 Denmark

Germany, like Denmark, have been ever-present in Women's EURO final tournaments ever since the first edition with a group stage in 1997, but the showdown at Brentford will be something new. In 1997, as well as 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017, Germany started the group phase as reigning champions. But that will not be the case this time, their 22-year hold on the trophy having been broken by a Denmark comeback in the Rotterdam quarter-final in 2017, which had a dramatic feel even before kick-off having been postponed from the previous day due to a torrential storm.

Without a major tournament success since the 2016 Olympics, Germany are enduring their longest sequence without a big title since they won the first of their record eight European crowns in 1989. Under Martina Voss-Tecklenberg, Germany continue to be a formidable force. Yet their invincible status is over, and with Spain and Finland also in probably the toughest group, they cannot afford a slip if they even want to equal their last-eight performance from 2017.

Denmark, who would appear in their first final in the Netherlands, will take some stopping, spearheaded by twice UEFA Player of the Year, Pernille Harder, who made her name in Germany with Wolfsburg. Denmark could also feel rather at home at Brentford, whose men's club have such a strong link to that nation.

Netherlands vs Sweden (Sheffield, Group C): 9 July, 21:00

2017 highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Sweden
2017 highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Sweden

Instead of Germany beginning the finals as defending champions, it is the Netherlands who have that billing after their breakthrough success at home in 2017, underlined two years later when they got to the FIFA Women's World Cup final. That they face Sweden could be a hopeful sign for the Dutch: they overcame the Swedes in the 2017 quarter-finals and again after extra time in the last four of the subsequent World Cup.

However, that Sweden ended up with an unexpected World Cup bronze is proof that a nation still trying to emulate their success in the very first Women's EURO of 1984 have seemingly transformed from perennial tournament under-performers to one that can peak at the right time – reaching the 2021 Olympic final in superb fashion despite not having been among the main pre-tournament favourites and only being pipped to gold by Canada on penalties.

Just as the likes of Vivianne Miedema and Lieke Martens announced their arrival as undisputed world-class talents at Women's EURO 2017, so Stina Blackstenius is one of several Sweden players whom fans will be excited to watch again after their Olympic exploits.

Northern Ireland vs England (Southampton, Group A): 15 July, 21:00

Shiels on Northern Ireland's England test
Shiels on Northern Ireland's England test

Once the qualifying dust had settled, 15 of the 16 finalists were countries that had competed in Women's EURO final tournaments before. But few saw the 16th coming: Northern Ireland had ranked 31st of the 48 qualifying entrants, and suffered two 6-0 losses to Norway (also in Group A here) early in their section; however, they twice held Wales and beat Belarus to earn an unexpected play-off.

Even then, few anticipated their away and home victories against Ukraine to advance to these finals. With much of their squad at part-time clubs in Northern Ireland or English lower-tier clubs, Kenny Shiels's team would have to cause perhaps the biggest upset in any women's international tournament (if they haven't already) to get out of this group, yet they are sure to have vocal backing at all three of their Southampton games, including this showdown with the hosts.

Northern Ireland won't be unfamiliar with their opponents, though. Not only did they face Norway to get here; they are also in the same World Cup qualifying pool as both England and Austria. Indeed, in October they played both sides in the space of three days. Although they lost 4-0 to England at Wembley, they held out for more than an hour and were far more competitive than in a 6-0 friendly loss eight months before, and then only a last-gasp Austria equaliser denied Northern Ireland a home victory.

Denmark vs Spain (London, Group B): 16 July, 21:00

Women's EURO 2022: Meet the Teams
Women's EURO 2022: Meet the Teams

In the group of death, this fixture might just be a killer blow for at least one of two teams with realistic ambitions of a first major women's title. At the very least it seems likely there will be many fans at Brentford with at least one eye on their phones given the simultaneous Finland-Germany encounter at Milton Keynes.

Spain have been threatening a breakthrough in recent years, successive talented crops of players dominating UEFA's youth tournaments, many under Jorge Vilda before he stepped up to take over the senior team. Moreover, Barcelona's new prominence at club level is based around a core of Spain players including the current UEFA Player of the Year Alexia Putellas, defenders like Irene Paredes and Mapi León, plus Jenni Hermoso up front.

But while Spain fell to Austria on penalties in the 2017 quarter-finals, Denmark ousted those same opponents on spot kicks in the semis, and also eliminated one of the pre-tournament favourites in their last group game in beating Norway. Also semi-finalists against the odds in 2013, they should have learned from their convincing 3-0 friendly reversal against Spain last June.

Iceland vs France (Rotherham, Group D): 18 July, 21:00

2017 highlights: France 1-0 Iceland
2017 highlights: France 1-0 Iceland

Many of the group stage encounters will be the first such meetings at major tournaments but that is far from the case with one of the two games that complete the round. In 2017, France needed a late Eugénie Le Sommer penalty to pip Iceland 1-0, a result that was to prove crucial in a tight group.

Eight years before, Iceland had played their debut game in any final tournament against France and led early, only to lose 3-1, with Les Bleues converting two spot kicks on that occasion. In fact, it was a home win against France a couple of years before in qualifying that had suggested that Iceland might be ready to join the European women's football elite, and they are now preparing for their fourth straight final tournament.

France, meanwhile, have spent the last decade being regularly tipped to claim a major title, with a surfeit of talented players and the example of Lyon's UEFA Women's Champions League supremacy. But they have gone out at the last-eight stage of every Women's EURO since the group stage was introduced in 1997 (not to mention the last two World Cups), and the 2012 Olympics marked their most recent semi-final. Italy and Belgium are also in this tricky group but Les Bleues, with a new generation of Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Melvine Malard and Delphine Cascarino now supplementing the long-standing core of Le Sommer, Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry, have their eyes on something higher than progress from the section.

All times CET