UEFA Women's EURO 2022 group stage: five things to watch
Monday, 13 June 2022
Get ready for the 6 July kick-off with our guide of the key points to watch when the finals begin.
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UEFA Women's EURO 2022 kicks off at Old Trafford on 6 July with more title contenders than ever before and attendance records set to be broken.
We pick out some key points that will have you watching the group stage action like a pro.
Favourites jostling for position
This is the seventh Women's EURO with a final tournament group stage, introduced in 1997, but the first such where Germany do not begin as defending champions, their 22-year reign ended in 2017 by Denmark in the quarter-finals. And whereas Germany invariably started those previous finals as obvious favourites, this time it is all really rather open.
The Netherlands are the current holders and while their slightly unexpected 2017 triumph came at home, they showed it was no fluke by travelling to France two years later and reaching the FIFA Women's World Cup final. Then again the hosts this time, England, were semi-finalists both in the Netherlands and at the last two World Cups, and are now managed by the very coach that masterminded the home Dutch triumph, Sarina Wiegman.
Germany, however, are hungry to end their current title-less status, which began when Canada succeeded them as Olympic champions in August, and possess a new generation of talent including Lea Schüller and Giulia Gwinn coming through to supplement the established stars. The same could be said of France, who have threatened a major breakthrough for the last decade but somehow have kept falling short.
But perhaps the biggest challenges come from another direction. If France's strength in recent years was based on a combination of an influx from youth tournament triumphs and a core from Europe's strongest club, Lyon, so the same applies to Spain, underlined by Barcelona's own recent success. While neither France nor Spain have really shown their best at major tournaments, however, Sweden of late absolutely have, winning 2019 World Cup bronze and 2021 Olympic silver, and spearhead the usual strong Scandinavian challenge along with the last two runners-up, Norway and Denmark.
Since England face Norway, the Netherlands meet Sweden and Germany take on both Spain and Denmark in the group stage, several clues to the eventual champions will have come to light by the time the groups conclude on 18 July, 13 days before the Wembley final. Before that, it will be a brave pundit who would nail their colours to any of the alternative masts.
Dark horses stepping into the light
Of course, neither the Netherlands nor Denmark were top of most pre-tournament lists in 2017, despite being the hosts and the 2013 semi-finalists pipped on penalties respectively, yet it was they who competed in the Enschede decider. So will it be underdogs who also have their day at Wembley?
Of those not mentioned above it is Italy, who had never failed to be among the last eight before their 2017 group stage exit, whose recent results suggest that a nation who were twice runners-up in the 1990s might yet dream of a return to those heights. They are in Group D with France and in fact both the other sides in that section, Belgium and Iceland, have plenty of ability to call upon.
Austria, surprise semi-finalists on debut in 2017, are a far from easy team to beat, as they showed both in the last finals and in October 2020 when they ended France's long streak of consecutive qualifying wins. They face England in the Old Trafford opener and won't make things easy for Norway in a group also containing the only debut finalists this time around, surprise qualifiers Northern Ireland.
But don't write off Finland, who missed out in 2017 but are back now under experienced coach Anna Signeul. They upset the odds the last time the finals were in England, making the 2005 semis as newcomers. Spain, Denmark and Germany will all take their Milton Keynes opponents with great seriousness in Group B.
There are plenty of echoes of past epic encounters among the 24 group fixtures. Most obvious are the rematches of two of the 2017 quarter-finals: Germany vs Denmark and Netherlands vs Sweden.
The 2-1 loss to Denmark, in a Rotterdam tie postponed a day due to torrential rainfall, curtailed Germany's 22-year reign as champions. The 8 July Brentford encounter will be a key moment in discovering if the evolving Germany team are in position to reclaim the title.
Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema were the scorers when the Netherlands beat Sweden 2-0 in Doetinchem, a week before being crowned champions for the first time. Two years later, the Dutch saw off Sweden in extra time to reach the World Cup final but the run of Peter Gerhardsson's team to 2021 Olympic bronze shows it would be far from a surprise if the fortunes were reversed for the holders at Bramall Lane on 9 July.
Over in Group D, France face Iceland for the third time in the last four group stages, having narrowly won with the help of penalties on the previous occasions in 2009 and 2017. And Group A there won't be many known unknowns: England have knocked Norway out of the last two World Cups and are in the same group as both Austria and Northern Ireland in qualifying for the 2023 global tournament. And Norway beat Northern Ireland 6-0 twice in qualifying for this one, though after that Kenny Shiels's squad embarked on the incredible run that ensured a 7 July rematch in Southampton.
Which stars will shine?
Tournaments are about team success of course but it is individuals who capture just as many headlines. Lieke Martens was player of the tournament back in 2017, though Netherlands colleagues Vivianne Miedema and Daniëlle van de Donk, among others, were also strong candidates, while England's Jodie Taylor joined the top scorers' roll of honour, following the likes of Lotta Schelin, Inka Grings and Pia Sundhage.
Key to Taylor's success was an opening hat-trick against Scotland and the eventual winner could again become clear during the group stage. Belgium's 12-goal Tine De Caigny led the way in qualifying but many of the chasing pack are probable favourites to lead the way in the finals: Norway's Caroline Graham Hansen, Spain's Jenni Hermoso, Denmark's Pernille Harder, France's Marie-Antoinette Katoto and of course Miedema. England's Ellen White could fancy her chances of emulating Taylor, too.
Any of them might also end up overall player of the tournament but just as many eyes will be on Alexia Putellas, Lucy Bronze, Stina Blackstenius or any of the Dutch stars of 2017. And just as then, a player like Martens could choose that moment to push themselves to the for, perhaps an emerging talent like Germany's Lena Oberdorf. There is a crowded constellation.
Crowds set to break records
The 2005 finals were also in England and opened at Manchester City with a tournament-record 29,092 crowd. That has only been topped once since, the 2013 final when 41,301 watched Germany beat Norway in Solna. Those records look set to tumble first when England start the tournament at Old Trafford on 6 July, then again for the Wembley final 25 days later.
In between the other eight stadiums should be pretty full too: a year before the tournament, more than 140,000 of the 700,000-plus available tickets had been snapped up in the advance stage, before the fixture list was even known. The current best of 247,041 that attended the 2017 finals in the Netherlands, a record average of 8,676 four years earlier in Sweden, are likely to be more than surpassed.