FIFA 16: Sweden spearhead Euro quartet of qualifiers

The identity of the first four qualifiers for next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is now known, following recent positive results for Spain, Sweden, Germany and France that saw those nations reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship, which took place in Israel between 15 and 27 July 2015.


Sweden emerged victorious from the tournament, earning their second-ever continental crown by defeating Spain 3-1 in the final, scoring twice in the first half prior to sealing the win toward the end of the match and curtailing any chance of a Spanish comeback. Curiously, the Swedes’ first success at this level, achieved back in 2012, also came about at the expense of the Spaniards. 


With a total of seven European U-19 titles to their names, Germany and France will be disappointed to have bowed out at the semi-final stage, especially after finishing top of their respective groups. In advance of the U-20 Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Papua New Guinea in October and November of 2016, runs the rule over the quartet of European representatives.


Swedes enjoy second success


How they qualified: Following a comfortable 3-0 triumph over host nation Israel, Sweden gained a hard-fought three points versus Denmark (1-0), before losing to France (0-1) in a match that decided which team would top Group A. In their semi-final clash with Germany, the Scandinavian side snatched a late equaliser to draw 3-3, and then proceeded to prevail in the penalty shoot-out (4-2) and book a place in the final. 


The players: “My team can be compared to the 2012 side. They’re maybe even more committed and stronger in the tackle,” remarked Sweden coach Calle Barrling before the final. Barrling was likely grateful for the contribution of Stina Blackstenius, the tournament’s top goalscorer, who notched a brace against Spain to take her total to six – one more than her compatriot, Elin Rubensson, who topped the scoring charts in 2012. 


Spain stumble at final hurdle again


How they qualified: Much like Sweden, it was not plain sailing for Spain as they made their way to the final, where they would end up as continental runners-up for the third time in four years. Although they began the competition strongly, firing four unanswered goals past Norway, they then struggled against England despite securing a 3-1 victory, and lost their final group match 1-0 to Germany. Versus France in the last four, La Roja dug deep to draw level after initially falling behind, and eventually got the better of Les Bleuettes on penalties (5-4).


The players: The Spanish squad that travelled to Israel already boasted significant international experience, given that eight players as well as coach Jorge Vilda had previously participated in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, where they reached the final. Just as they were in Costa Rica, talented twins Nuria and Pilar Garrote were instrumental in their side’s creditable run.


Laborious Germans fall in last four


How they qualified: The Germans have never failed to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup, a unique accomplishment for a European nation. However, they will look back on this year’s qualifying contest as a disappointment, despite again clinching a spot at the tournament proper. After an arduous 2-1 win over England, they subsequently suffered a surprise reverse at the hands of Norway (0-2), and needed a tight victory over Spain to top their group. In the semi-final, the reigning U-20 world champions appeared to have one foot in the tournament’s showpiece duel, but were undone by a late leveller in normal time and by missed penalties in the shoot-out.


The players: Like Spain, Germany have built their team around a generation that starred at the U-17 World Cup, even though the eight players involved could not prevent their country from exiting at the group stage. That group’s experience will nevertheless be crucial if Germany are to avoid making the same mistakes in Papua New Guinea. 


France fail to maintain momentum


How they qualified: It had all started so well for France: three solid wins over Denmark (1-0), Israel (4-0) and Sweden (1-0) saw Les Bleuettes finish top of their group without conceding a single goal, an achievement that mirrored their performance in the elite round of European qualifying in the autumn of 2014. Unfortunately, their hopes of a fourth European title in this age category were dashed by Spain’s determined semi-final display.


The players: Marie-Charlotte Leger, France’s top scorer in Israel, netted her third and final goal of the competition versus Spain. Regrettably, the team captain subsequently went from hero to villain, missing a penalty during the semi-final shoot-out and consequently sending the Spaniards into the final.

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