Italy and Switzerland made short work of progressing from UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship qualifying round Group 9 in Bulgaria as the seventh edition began.
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Italy and Switzerland made short work of progressing from UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship qualifying round Group 9 as the revamped tournament began its seventh edition.
The size of the final tournament has been doubled to eight teams this season and Italy and Switzerland are one round away after both beat the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria comfortably on the opening two days. Italy ultimately clinched top spot with a commanding 5-1 success against the Swiss, while Bulgaria must wait to see if they emerge as the best third-placed side.
Things looked good for Italy and Switzerland when either side won 6-0 on the opening day. Switzerland saw off hosts Bulgaria with six different players scoring, while FYROM were four down to Italy within 22 minutes, Manuela Giugliano striking twice. Sara Mella made it five before the break, and substitute Valery Vigilucci rounded things off late on.
Two days later, the leading pair made sure of progress with even more comfortable victories. Switzerland edged ahead on goal difference after overcoming FYROM 12-0, again with six different players registering. Opening-day scorers Alison Germanier and Julia Stierli helped themselves to two apiece, as did Teuté Ameti, Sereina Villiger and Cinzia Zehnder. Italy beat Bulgaria 10-0, Lisa Boattin getting the first two, Valentina Bergamaschi adding the next three and Vigilucci then contributing a hat-trick of her own.
Switzerland now knew a draw against Italy would seal top spot and they took the lead through Ameti after 13 minutes in Kavarna, only for Vigilucci to notch her fifth goal in three outings four minutes later. Enrico Sbardella's side simply took over from there, with Bergamaschi registering twice and Giugliano adding another before Lorena Baumann was sent off for Switzerland on the cusp of half-time. Giugliano buried another after the break as Italy made sure of first place in style.
"I am really happy with our performance against Switzerland," commented Sbardella. "This was a real test for us. We played against Switzerland at a different age level several months ago and lost, but this time my team was totally ready and focused.
"We have a lot of wonderful attacking weapons. We have very speedy and tricky players in midfield and on the wings, like Bergamaschi and Giugliano. But I was also very impressed with our defence against such a strong physical side like Switzerland. The next qualifying round in October will probably be much tougher, but we'll enter it full of confidence."
Bulgaria were looking to avoid defeat to keep their mathematical chances of progress alive and they finished the section on three points thanks to a 2-1 triumph against FYROM. Stefka Petkova notched both their goals, one at the start of either half, while Stefani Skerlevska plundered FYROM's only effort in the section.
All remaining nine mini-tournaments are scheduled between 28 July and 11 August. The ten group winners, ten runners-up and the third-placed side with the best record against the top two in their section join the three top seeds, Germany, Spain and France, in the elite round draw on 15 August. That stage, from 30 September to 20 October, will determine the seven teams to join hosts England in the expanded final tournament from 26 November until 8 December.