Whilst the top two places in Group A have been decided with Netherlands guaranteed top spot and Russia runners-up, the latter knew that two big wins in their final games could potentially see them qualify automatically as one of the best second placed sides. That bid started on 27th November with a comfortable 3-0 win over Kosovo in a game moved to the neutral venue of Manavgat in Turkey due to security concerns. All three Russian goals emerged in the opening twelve minutes with Marina Fedorova scoring twice and Alsu Abdullina grabbing the other. The battle of the bottom two nations, both winless all competition long took place in Tallinn on the same date and it was Turkey who emerged with the honours after a 4-0 thrashing of Estonia. Ece Turkoglu, Ilayda Civelek, Gulbin Hiz and Yagmur Uraz were on target as the Turks doubled their goal tally for the whole qualification campaign in one night.
On 1st December, Netherlands concluded their qualification tournament with a tenth win from ten games with a 6-0 demolition job of Kosovo. A hat-trick by Katja Snoeijs, two from Jill Roord and one from Lieke Mertens ensured they ended with a perfect record. Russia finish second, but have not done enough to ensure they finish as one of the best three automatic qualification spots after they only won 2-1 in Turkey. Anna Belomyttseva and Marina Fedorova were on target with Derya Arhan scoring for the Turks. Elsewhere, Slovenia ensured they will finish third regardless of their final game in February after a 2-0 win over Estonia who are guaranteed to finish bottom before their last game in the New Year. Barbara Kralj and a Korina Kork own goal separated the sides.
Group B action returned on 26th November as Malta recorded their second win of the qualifiers with a 4-0 success over bottom side Georgia. A brace apiece from Shona Zammit and Haley Bugeja earned the islanders the points. The majority of the nations played their final qualifiers on 1st December. Denmark concluded their successful campaign with a 0-0 draw against Italy in Viborg. The Italians are likely to gain one of the automatic qualification spots for the three best second placed sides if they can beat an Israeli side in February who have only won two of their nine qualifiers so far. Bosnia Herzegovina finished third after a routine 3-0 win away to Georgia who ended their qualification bid with ten losses from ten games. A brace from Sofija Krajsumovic and one from Marija Damjanovic earned them the three points. Malta concluded their campaign with a second straight win, this time 2-0 in Israel. Brenda Borg and Haley Bugeja were on the mark.
In Group C, on 27th November, Northern Ireland took another huge step towards the phenomenal achievement of making the play-offs as group runners-up. Their 3-2 win over Belarus in a see-saw encounter at Crusaders FC’s ground in Belfast means they would be confirmed as group runners-up with a win over Faroe Islands four days later. Northern Ireland took the lead after just two minutes thanks to Kirsty McGuinness’ strike. However, it was cancelled out by Anastasia Shcherbachenia’s equaliser fourteen minutes later. Just past the hour mark, Rachel Furness crashed home a penalty to restore the home side’s lead. Yet, six minutes, up popped Shcherbachenia to level again for Belarus. To the delight of the hosts, the win was sealed three minutes later when Natalia Voskobovich put into her own net. Norway’s game with the Faroe Islands was cancelled due to coronavirus and is unlikely to be rescheduled as the Norwegians are already confirmed as group winners and the Faroese can only finish bottom of the group.
On 1st December, Northern Ireland continued their fairy tale qualification campaign with an outstanding performance to brush aside Faroe Islands 5-1 at Crusaders FC. The result confirmed their place in the play-offs – a sensational achievement by Kenny Shiels’ side. There was a dramatic opening when the visitors, fielding a side full of teenagers, took a shock lead – scoring their only goal in the whole qualification period – thanks to Jensa Torolvsdottir sliding home. But, just sixty seconds later, Liverpool’s Rachel Furness bundled one over the line from a scramble. Northern Ireland dominated completely from now on and just before the half-hour mark took the lead from a sensational strike outside the box by Kirsty McGuinness. It stayed that way at the break, but another stunner of a hit, this time from Birmingham City’s Chloe McCarron extended the advantage. Caitlin McGuinness, who by coming on as a substitute to join her sister Kirsty on the pitch ensured her family became the first to represent Northern Ireland Women in the same team at the same time, then joined her sibling on the scoresheet too. The rout was completed at the end with an own goal from Jacoba Langgaard. There were joyous scenes at the final whistle in Belfast and Northern Ireland will hope that some fans will be allowed into their home leg of the play-offs in the New Year.
That result meant that Wales’ 3-0 win over Belarus in Newport was purely academic. Natasha Harding, Rachel Rowe and Jess Fishlock all scored in a frustrating end to Wales’ qualification campaign. Norway are due to play Belarus in February, but as the game has no bearing on the final group table, it remains to be confirmed.
In Group D, Spain moved to within one victory of a place in the finals with a comprehensive 10-0 thumping of Moldova on 27th November. Jennifer Hermoso grabbed a hat-trick with Aitana Bonmati adding two more. Maria Caldentey, Alexia Putellas, Patricia Guijarro, Eva Navarro and an own goal from Dumitrita Prisacari completed the rout in Madrid. In the sole game played on 1st December, Moldova were on the end of another heavy loss, with Czech Republic hitting seven against them this time round. Andrea Staskova (two) and one each from Klara Cahynova, Jana Petrikova, Katerina Svitova, Kamila Dubcova and Miroslava Mrazova sealed the deal. There are still three games to be played in this group in the New Year with Spain, Poland and Czech Republic all still capable of finishing top of the group.
Scotland’s hopes of qualification from Group E took another downward turn on 27th November after they lost their second successive game – 1-0 to Portugal at Belenenses’ Stadium in Lisbon. Shelley Kerr’s side dominated the first half in terms of possession and territory but could not create a chance to unlock the door. Ana Borges’ strike with 21 minutes to go made the Scots pay. The visitors now slip to third in the table, four points adrift of the play-off places. Scotland will now need to win all of their remaining three matches and hope that the result of the game between the Portuguese and Finns who are above them produces a favourable outcome. In the group’s other game that night, Albania gained their second win of the campaign – both over rock bottom Cyprus and did so with a 4-0 score line. The Albanians took the lead on 18 minutes through Suada Jushari before three further goals in the final ten minutes. A Megi Doci penalty plus goals from Lucie Gjini and Kristina Maksuti completed the win.
Scotland’s shock slump continued on 1st December with a disastrous 1-0 loss to Finland at Hibernian FC – their third qualification loss in a row which means that they can no longer even make the play-offs. The hosts had a huge number of the chances throughout the game, but Jennifer Beattie, Kim Little, Martha Thomas, Lisa Evans and Caroline Weir all missed them. The sting in the tail came in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time when Amanda Rantanen scored for the Finns to put them top of the group. It means that the Scots, who qualified for Euro 2017 and the World Cup in 2019 and were top seeds in the group are now out with two games left to play. Portugal laboured to a 1-0 win over strugglers Albania. Ana Capeta scored the only goal just before the hour mark.
In Group F, Iceland confirmed their place in the finals as one of the best second placed sides with two wins in a row. First they came from 1-0 down in Senec, Slovakia on 26th November to win 3-1. The Slovak’s took the lead on twenty-five minutes from Maria Mikolajova but back came the Icelanders thanks to Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir’s two penalties and a Berglind Bjorg strike. This was followed up with a 1-0 win in Hungary thanks to two penalties (one penalty) from Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir and a Berglina Bjorg. Sweden completed their qualification campaign unbeaten after a 6-0 win in Slovakia. Ingrid Angeldal (2), Linda Sembrant, Fridolina Rolfo, Jonna Andersson and Rebecka Blomqvist were on target.
France overcame their off-field difficulties with a 3-0 win over Austria in Guingamp on 27th November to finally qualify from Group G. Goals from Wendie Renard and two from Marie-Antoinette Katoto completed a win which caused thousands of fans to heave a big sigh of relief.
Elsewhere, on the same night, North Macedonia recorded their second win of the qualification stages, both of which have come over Kazakhstan. Two goals from Gentjana Rochi and one from Elma Shemsovikj earned the 3-0 win.
On 1st December, Austria gained the win they needed to stay in the running for one of the three automatic qualification spots for the group runners-up with the best record. Nicole Billa’s goal with ten minutes left against Serbia sealed the result.
France’s final game North Macedonia ended with a 12-0 thrashing. Jean-Pierre Thiesset reports: There was the opportunity to see a few young players that had not played a lot or at all since the beginning of the competition. Corinne Diacre decided to let several main players rest to give more chances to Lyon and Paris SG teams in their Women’s UEFA Champions League games: Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Delphine Cascarino and Sakina Karchaoui did not play at all and Amel Majri, Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto played only the first half. Whilst Kazakhstan is the 77th team in the world, a 12-0 win with a lot of good passes and play was incredibly pleasing to watch. The young players showed that they were able to do the job and it was the first goal for France team for Eve Périsset (25 years old, Paris SG), Estelle Cascarino (23 years old, Bordeaux), Emelyne Laurent (22 years old, Olympique Lyonnais, on loan at Atletico Madrid), Perle Moroni (23 years old, Paris SG), Sandy Baltimore (20 years old, Paris SG) and Clara Matéo (23 years old, Paris FC). Kenza Dali and Elisa De Almeida were also on target as well as a double from Kadidiatou Diani (25 years old, Paris SG) and Marie-Antoinette Katoto (22 years old, Paris SG). The latter being the highest scorer of the qualification competition for the French with eight goals in front of Eugénie Le Sommer (seven goals) who did not play in the last two games as she was injured.
On 27th November, in Group H, Croatia won the battle of the bottom two with a 1-0 success over Lithuania thanks to a late strike from Kristina Sundov in Pula. The Croats have won both games between the two nations for their only wins in the campaign so far. The battle of the top two on 1st December saw Belgium romp to a stunning 4-0 win over Switzerland in Leuven to confirm that they will qualify automatically as group winners. Tine de Caigny (2), Tessa Wullaert and Janice Cayman were on the mark. The result now means that Switzerland are going to find it incredibly difficult to qualify automatically as one of the three best second placed sides and will most likely drop into the play-offs. Croatia’s game with Lithuania was cancelled.
Finally to Group I where Germany won their seventh successive qualifier on 27th November with a 6-0 thumping of Greece in Ingolstadt. Laura Freigang grabbed a hat-trick and Marina Hegering, Linda Dallmann and Paulina Krumbiegel completed the rout. Then on 1st December, any hope that Republic of Ireland had of making the play-offs as group runners-up faded after Germany left Dublin with a 3-1 win to complete their qualification campaign with a 100% win record. Tabea Wassmuth grabbed two and a Lina Magull penalty did the job. Katie McCabe scored for Ireland. That result meant that Ukraine’s 2-1 win at home to Montenegro meant that they would take the play-off spot as runners-up. Olha Basanska and Nadiia Kunina were on the mark. Jasna Dokovic scored for Montenegro.
With only a handful of qualification games left for February, matters are a long way towards being decided.
Already qualified automatically as group winners to join hosts England are Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, Belgium and Germany. Iceland are also making their travel plans for England after being guaranteed one of the three automatic spots for the best group runners-up. Group D and E are still to be decided.
In terms of the play-offs, Northern Ireland, Russia and Ukraine’s participation is confirmed with three more spots to be filled as a result of the last few games in the qualification campaign in February.