The UEFA Women’s European Championship 2017 begins with an air of optimism surrounding women’s football. Big clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City, and Paris St. Germain, three from a number of clubs who are investing heavily into the women’s game as the landscape continues to change. As a direct result of the growth within the women’s game UEFA have expanded the Euro competition to 16 teams with Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, and Scotland qualifying for the first time for the biggest Euro tournament there has been in the women’s game. The women’s game continues to evolve and develop at a rapid rate but if we look at teams internationally it’s very much the same old story.
If you were a betting person then you’d have look no further than Germany as potential winners of the tournament. The Netherlands, as hosts, might have something to say about that with the hosts generally performing very well with Germany, Sweden, and Norway all winning the tournament on home soil. Why pick Germany as the favourites? Well, their history in the competition speaks for itself. Since German reunification in 1990, the German national team has won every Euro Championship since 1995 when they beat Sweden 3-2 in Kaiserslautern and in 2017 the men’s national team won the Confederations Cup with their under 21 team winning their respective World Cup too. So it’s a safe bet to think that the international successes this year will continue.
Former Germany defender Steffi Jones recently took over from Silvia Neid in 2016 after Neid left to take up a scouting job with the German Football Association (DFB). Neid holds World Cup and Euro Championship winners medals and Jones will be under pressure to replicate such success. Germany are without their talismanic coach but also without talented midfielder Melanie Leupolz who has had a succession of injuries that have hindered her international career. Germany has also seen a number of players retire in order to have families and pursue other interests. Célia Šašić had scored 63 goals in 111 appearances and has been sorely missed. However, midfielders Lena Goessling and Dzsenifer Marozsan remain important parts of that midfield machine with Anja Mittag looking to add to her 50 international goals. Outside of those three, in particular, Germany are pretty strong in every area and will be a tough team to beat. However, Norway, Sweden, France, and England will provide stiff competition with both Italy and Spain holding the potential to upset a few people along the way.
Norway and Sweden have a proud history in the Euro Championships. In 1984 Sweden won the competition in a two legged affair by defeating England on penalties (England losing on penalties? Really?) They have also been runners up on three other occasions. Norway in comparison won their first Euro Championship in 1987 in Oslo by beating their neighbour Sweden 2-1 before lifting the title again in 1993 after defeating Italy in heartbreaking fashion 1-0 in Cesena. While Italy are not considered to be contenders for the title they have reached the final twice alongside England, who have never won the competition. France have never won the competition and have only ever reached the quarter finals which would lead anyone to believe that they won’t progress beyond that despite a good squad available to coach Olivier Echouafni.
England, on the other hand, are similar to Norway and Sweden in terms of balance and quality in every position. Norway is probably the only team with somebody who could change a game as Ada Hegerberg was scoring goals for fun prior to the tournament. Mark Sampson has proved that England are capable of mixing it with the best teams in the world after an impressive World Cup campaign in Canada and he will be looking for the likes of Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan, and Jordan Nobbs to step up and be counted in the Netherlands. Spain have a team that has their midfield contributing regularly to the score sheet as well as their forward producing the goods when it matters. They aren’t a team that many fancy to go all the way either, but they have the potential to do so. Italy will be a typical Italian team, strong in defence and capable of nicking goals at crucial times in games. The Italians know what it takes to reach the latter stages of the competition and with a bit of luck, they could also reach the final.
Player of the Tournament: Jordan Nobbs
Top Scorer: Ada Hegerberg
Dark Horses: Spain and Italy