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A comprehensive guide to Euro 2022

Euro 2022

Another summer of international football is just around the corner. A year later than initially scheduled, Euro 2022 has arrived.

In the extra year that has passed excitement around the tournament has only continued to grow in the host nation England, and across the globe.

The 13th edition of the tournament looks set to deliver on the promise of being the biggest women’s European Championship to date.

The opening game between England and Austria is to be played in front of a capacity Old Trafford crowd on July 6.

A number of teams stand a legitimate chance of lifting the trophy in front of another sell-out crowd at Wembley on July 31.

With the tournament set to kick off in a matter of days, First Time Finish take a look at all 16 teams competing at Euro 2022.

Euro 2022 Group A

Austria

The summer of 2017 is one that will live long in the memory of Austrian football fans. It marked the nation’s first appearance at a major women’s international tournament, and they enjoyed an unexpected string of results which saw them reach the semi-final.

A youthful Austrian squad topped Group C ahead of the more favoured France to set up a quarter-final tie against Spain, who they edged past on penalties.

The semi-final tie against Denmark proved to be a step too far. Penalties were once again required, the Danes scoring three before Austria could find the net.

Austria failed to capitalise on their fantastic showcase in the Netherlands and missed out on the 2019 World Cup. Three years on they’ve bounced back to reach their second successive European championship.

With Irene Fuhrmann now at the helm, having taken over from Dominik Thalhammer midway through qualification, Austria were excellent in qualification.

Drawing with France as they finished runners-up in Group G, they qualified for Euro 2022 as one of the 3 best second-placed teams.

Furhmann’s side have continued to impress during their preparations for the tournament. A narrow 2-1 loss to Denmark was followed by victories over Montenegro and Belgium.

Five years on from being the surprise package at Euro 2017, Austria no longer possesses the advantage of being the unknown.

A number of the names who shone in the Netherlands are still amongst the squad which possesses a lot of talent. Nicole Billa and Sarah Zadrazil have both been standout performers in the Bundesliga over the past few seasons.

In goal they have Arsenal shot-stopper Manuela Zinsberger, who kept the most clean sheets in the WSL this season.

Austria will face an uphill battle to get out of a group that also contains the more fancied Norway and England.

Likely starting eleven: (4-1-4-1) Zinsberger, Wienroither, Winninger, Schnaderbeck, Henshaw, Zadrazil, Puntigam, Plattner, Dunst, Billa, Naschenweng

Key player: Nicole Billa is a talismanic figure in this Austria squad. In 2021 she was named Bundesliga player of the season for her 23 goals. At international level, she’s clinical to. She’s already got 43 international goals to her name, including seven during qualification.

Young player to watch: Originally this spot belonged to Maria Plattner, however, the 21-year-old suffered a broken collar bone just days out from the tournament. So, instead why not keep an eye out for her Turbine Potsdam teammate Marie Höbinger who also plays in midfield.

England

As the hosts, there is a lot of excitement around England heading into Euro 2022.

We saw at the men’s European Championships last summer just how much a home advantage can raise a team’s performance to the next level. The Lionesses will be hoping that they can go one step further this summer and lift the trophy at Wembley.

England stand a legitimate chance of doing just that. Their squad, packed with world-class talents in every position, is as strong as it has ever been.

With Sarina Weigmann now at the helm following the departure of Phil Neville to Inter Miami they have a manager capable of drawing out the required performances to venture deep into the tournament.

More fuel was added to that confidence following a strong 5-1 victory over Weigman’s former side the Netherlands.

Under Dutchwoman England the Lionesses have developed a ruthless edge. Their scorelines often threaten to hit double digits.

On four occasions they’ve scored 10 or more goals including a 20-0 destruction of Latvia during World Cup qualification November.

With Steph Houghton set to miss the tournament following a season blighted with injury, England have named Leah Williamson as their new captain.

In her first competition as the senior captain, the 25-year-old will have to lead a squad built on a blend of youth and experience.

England will have to deal with the pressures of being the hosts and one of the favourites, but all the signs so far point towards this squad being capable of raising to the occasion.

Likely starting eleven: (4-2-3-1) Mary Earps, Lucy Bronze, Mille Bright, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Leah Williamson, Kiera Walsh, Georgia Stanway, Beth Mead, Lauren Hemp, Ellen White

Key player: The role of captain has only raised Williamson’s game. The Arsenal defender – who looks set to be deployed in midfield – has excellent distribution, something Weigmann will likely tap into to help unlock their opposition.

Young player to watch: Lauren Hemp could have quite easily been selected as England’s key player. At 21 she has already won the PFA Young Player of the year award on four occasions. Already one of the best wingers in the world, Help will be hoping to drive England to success this summer.

Northern Ireland

The term underdog seems like an understatement for Northern Ireland.

A squad made up primarily of domestic-based players who ply their trade in the part-time Northern Irish Women’s Premiership, their qualification was the stuff of fairy tail.

They left fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief as they pulled off the most unlikely of qualifications.

Having been drawn out of pot four, Kenny Sheild’s side tasted defeat just twice in Group C as they pipped Wales to second place on head-to-head away goals.

Their reward was a two-legged play-off tie against Ukraine which they won 4-1 on aggregate to secure their first-ever taste of a major international tournament.

“We had amateur players who were going to work in supermarkets, in hospitals. The majority of our squad is made up of that and I have to say, when you look at it in that perspective, it makes the achievement ridiculous,” Shiels proclaimed following their successful qualification.

To help bridge the gap between them and their professional counterparts, 22 domestic players entered into a seven-month full-time professional programme at Newforge in Belfast at the start of this year.

Their recent history against their Group A opponents suggests that the group stage will be a tough task for Kenny Shield’s side.

It was Norway that handed them their only two defeats in qualification, twice beat them by a 6-0 scoreline.

During the current World Cup qualifiers, they also lost home and away to England, 4-0 and 5-0 respectively. A 2-2 draw against Austria last October in the same campaign was followed by a 3-1 away loss in April.

Subsequent friendly losses to Romania and Belgium have done little to stir confidence amongst Northern Irish fans.

Yet, despite all the odds being stacked against them, Northern Ireland will have no fear heading into Euro 2022.

After all, they’ve already beaten the odds to get here in the first place.

Likely starting eleven: (5-3-2) Burns, McKenna, Hutton, McFadden, Nelson, Vance, McCarron, Furness, Callaghan, Wade, Magill

Key player: Rachel Furness is a legendary name in Northern Irish football. Having been overlooked by her home nation of England she made her debut for NI as a 17-year-old in 2005 and has gone on to be the country’s record goalscorer.

Young player to watch: With this being Northern Ireland’s first major tournament it’s only natural that their squad contains a number of promising young players. Wing back Rebecca McKenna is definitely one to watch.

Norway

It’s Norway who are the team that have benefited the most from this summer’s Euros taking place a year after they were originally scheduled.

Thanks to the delay, key players who would have otherwise missed the tournament will now be on the plane to England.

The most notable of those being Ada Hegerberg.

Having decided to step away from the national team in 2017 citing dissatisfaction with how the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) were treating women’s football, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner returned to the national set up in April following positive conversations with new NFF president Lise Klaveness.

Martin Sjögren will also be able to call on his captain Maren Mjelde who has returned to full fitness following a lengthy spell on the sidelines

Young stars Frida Maanum and Julie Blakstad have also benefited from receiving game time in the WSL, something which has aided their development.

Combine those names with the star-studded list of Caroline Graham Hansen, Guro Reiten, Ingrid Engen and it’s clear to see why many have dubbed Martin Sjogren’s side dark horses.

One question that hangs over this Norway team is who will start in goal. First-choice goalkeeper Cecilie Fiskerstrand is unavailable having ruptured her ACL in May.

Guro Pettersen has started both pre-tournament friendlies but Aurora Mikalsen and Sunniva Skoglund are also more than capable of filling in between the sticks.

In qualification Norway only played six games, their other two were cancelled as a result of the pandemic, yet they still finished top of the group four points clear of Northern Ireland who played all eight.

Likely starting eleven: (4-4-2) Pettersen, Hansen, Mjelde, Thorisdottir, Blakstad, Eikeland, Engen, Maanum, Reiten, Graham Hansen, Hegeberg

Key player: Ada Hegerberg has wasted no time in getting back to the goals. Her first game back was marked with a hat-trick as Norway cruised past Kosovo 5-1. With the 26-year-old back in the mix, it looks unlikely that Norway will repeat the disappointment of 2017 when they failed to score a single goal.

Young player to watch: Capable of playing anywhere down the left side of the pitch, Julie Blakstad will be a key player for Norway this summer despite only being 20 years old. Her attack-minded style is more suited to playing on the wing, where she has been deployed for Manchester City, but Blakstad will likely slot in at fullback for Norway.

Group B

Denmark

Runners up last time out, Denmark find themselves in the unnatural position of not being favoured to get out of the group stage this year.

They’ll have to overcome serial tournament winners Germany and one of the tournament favourites in Spain if they are to reach the knock out stages.

However, this Danish team are playing with supreme confidence.

They made light work of qualification for this tournament, picking up nine wins and one draw same them finish ahead of Italy in Group B.

They also head into Euro 2022 on an emotional high of qualifying for this first World Cup since 2007, which has injected even more confidence into Lars Søndergaard’s side.

In recent times Søndergaard has changed Denmark’s system from a back four to a back three. They like to build from the back and make the most of their excellent wing-backs who play a key role in attack by creating an overload in their attacking third.

With serial goalscorers Pernille Harder and Signee Bruun in attack, Søndergaard has enough firepower in his side.

Denmark are likely fighting with Germany for second place in this group, so all eyes will be on that clash on July 8.

Likely starting eleven: (3-4-3) Christensen, Sevecke, Ballisager Pedersen, Veje, Thomsen, Junge Pedersen, Troelsgaard, Svava, Larsen, Harder, Bruun

Key player: Pernille Harder became the most expensive player in history when she swapped Wolfsburg for Chelsea in 2020. Harder is vicious on the attack, an attribute which has made her the leading goalscorer for Denmark with 67 goals.

Young player to watch: Sofie Svava has particularly gained a lot from Denmark’s switch to a back three. Now being deployed as a left wing-back the Real Madrid player has more freedom to impose her attacking flair on the opposition.

Finland

Screams bounced off the empty seats making the Bolt Arena sound like a capacity crowd.

Players in white piled on top of each other in celebration as exuberant coaches embraced on the sidelines.

That was the reaction of the Finland team after Linda Sällström’s dramatic 93rd-minute winner against Portugal in the penultimate group game to virtually secure their spot at the tournament.

Their goal difference, 11 goals better than Portugal’s, all but secured their passage to the tournament. A 5-0 win in Cyprus four days later officially confirmed their passage.

Finland’s reward for qualifying for Euro 2022 is finding themselves in the unwanted position of being the lowest-ranked team in the group of death.

Defending was a strong point for Finland during qualifying shipping just two goals, but their showcase against higher-ranked opposition in February’s Tournoi de France shed some light on their potential frailties in England.

In their three games against France, Brazil and the Netherlands, they conceded eight, a worrying trend heading into the group of death. A 5-1 warm up game loss to Japan also raised concerns.

Although the odds are heavily stacked against her side, Anna Signeul can call upon some vastly experienced players. She’s named one of the oldest squads in the tournament with an average age of 27.9. (Only Sweden have named an older squad at 28.4).

Tuija Hyyrynen, who recently departed Juventus and Tottenham shot-stopper Tinja-Riikka Kprepla have both earned over 100 caps.

Natalia Kuikka of the Portland Thorns will provide another much-needed solid head at the back. And Real Sociedad striker Sanni Franssi is also coming off the back of a successful season in Spain which saw her hit double figures for the second straight season.

Likely starting eleven: (4-4-2) Korepla, Hyyrenyn, Kuikka, Westerlund, Koivisto, Enagman, Summanen, Alenen, Öling, Franssi, Sällström

Key player: At 36 Tinja-Riikka Korpela has already represented Finland at two previous European Championships. With Finland looking likely to be the Group of Death’s whipping side, they’ll need their goalkeeper call on those experiences from 2009 and 2013 if they are to het anything from Group B.

Young player to watch: Eveliina Summanen is one of the few young players who has established herself in the Finland team under Signeul. WSL fans got a glimpse of her tireless midfield style when she joined Tottenham on loan in January. Summanen’s youthful energy will be vital in tough moments against their higher-ranked group B opponents.

Germany

There was a time when Germany ruled the roost over the European Championship. Between 1995 and 2013 they retained a stranglehold over the competition, winning the title six times on the bounce.

But the days of Germany dominating this tournament are over.

Their era came to an unexpected halt five years ago in the Netherlands.

Having just won gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, Germany crashed out in the quarter-finals at the hands of Denmark at Euro 2017.

It brought an end to a 22-year run in which they hadn’t tasted a single defeat at UEFA’s premier international tournament.

A similar fate befell them at the 2019 World Cup. Again they failed to make it past the quarter-final, this time falling at the feet of Sweden.

Although they are no longer the all-conquering side they one were, Germany have a strong blend of seasoned internationals and exciting young talents.

Lena Oberdorf, Klara Buhl, Jule Brand and Giulia Gwinn all represent a bright future whilst captain Alexandra Popp, Svenja Huth and Sara Dabritz have vast experience at this level.

Die Nationalelf‘s cruised through qualifying, scoring 46 times and conceding just once in their eight games.

A subsequent fourth-place finish at the Arnold Clark cup and a surprise 3-2 loss against Serbia in World Cup qualifying will add some more doubt to an already uncertain German side.

In their defence, their squad had fallen victim to injury and covid 19 on both occasions.

They’ll be without two key midfielders with serial winner Dzsenifer Marozsán suffering an ACL injury and Chelsea’s Melanie Leupolz expecting a child. Even with that two unavailable, Germany’s midfield depth will still strike fear into their opponents.

Defence, which has often been a strength for Germany, may be an area of concern for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.

Injuries and covid have forced the German boss to chop and change her defensive lineup, not allowing her side to settle on a centre-back pairing in recent months.

In their only pre-tournament friendly, a 7-0 hammering of Switzerland, they lined up with Marina Hegering and Kathrin Hendrich, their fifth different pairing since November.

In a tough group alongside Spain and Denmark, the former queens of this competition will face a tough task to reach the knockout stages.

Likely starting eleven: (4-2-3-1) Frohms, Gwinn, Hegering, Hendrich, Rauch, Oberdrof, Däbritz, Huth, Magill, Bühl, Schüller

Key player: As previously mentioned Germany have a stacked midfield despite two notable absences. Sara Däbritz is the superstar amongst them. Since moving to PSG in 2019 Däbritz has added leadership qualities to her top quality ability.

Young player to watch: At just 20 years old Lena Oberdorf is already one of the most revered defensive players in world football. Capable of anchoring a midfield or slotting in at centre half, Oberdorf is consistently fantastic.

Spain

There is a lot of expectation on the shoulders of the Spanish players heading into Euro 2022.

Despite having never previously won the tournament, or made the final four since 1997, they are amongst the favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley on July 31.

That is in large part down to the recent success of their domestic champions Barcelona, who’s players dominate the squad.

You can count on one hand the number of losses the Catalan side have suffered over the past two seasons as they’ve made winning games habitual.

It’s because of the form of the likes of Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati, Mapi Leon and Mariona Caldentay have demonstrated on the club stage that many have Spain down as the favourites to win the whole tournament, despite their disappointing track record on the international stage.

A 7-0 dismantling of Australia, albeit against an Aussie side without a number of key players, only added to the expectations.

Jorge Vilda’s decision to leave Amauri Sarriegi and Eizaguirre at home despite the duo scoring a combined 31 goals for Real Sociedad last season did raise some eyebrows.

As did the decision to select the uncapped Salma Paralluelo, who has since been forced to withdraw from the squad.

Spain were dealt their biggest blow earlier in the month when their all-time record goalscorer Jenni Hersmoso was also forced to withdraw from the squad after sustaining an injury.

Spain breezed through qualification. They topped Group D with a near-perfect record of seven wins and one draw. Scoring goals was not a problem. Their 13-0 victory over Azerbjian alongside 9-0 and 10-0 destructions of Moldova speak to that.

Alexia Putellas may dominate the headlines but there is world-class talent beyond the current Ballon d’Or holder.

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Paños, Batlle, Mapi Leon, Parades, Ouahabi, Gujardo, Putellas, Bonmati, Caldentay, Esther, Garcia

Key player: There could be only one player here: Alexia Putellas. Captain of club and country, she makes everything look easy, passing, dribbling, scoring. La Reina is simply breathtaking.

Young player to watch: Spain have a two exciting young speedsters worth keeping an eye on this summer. The first is Real Madrid winger Athenea del Castillo who stole the show against England in February. The second is Claudia Pina who has just completed a brilliant season at Barcelona, scoring 15 league goals.

Group C

Netherlands

Five years ago the streets of the Netherlands were painted orange as thousands took to the street in support of the Oranjeleeuwinnen.

The excitement around the country reached fever pitch when Sarina Weigmann’s side triumphed in the final. Their 4-2 victory over Denmark in Enschede marked their first major tournament win.

The Dutch continued to ride the wave as they reached the World Cup final in 2019, where they lost 2-0 to the USA.

Now under the guidance of Mark Parsons the Netherlands have entered a new era.

Life under the Englishman has been far from straightforward. A 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic, which required a late Viv Miedema goal, was not the most comfortable start.

Victories over Iceland, Finland, Cyprus and Belarus sit alongside further draws against the Czechs, Brazil and Japan. As well as a 3-1 loss to France.

Just when Dutch fans began to hope that the teething pains of a new coach were behind them they were slapped with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of their former coach Sarina Weigmna’s England side.

That loss against England means that the Netherlands have failed to win all three of their games against higher-ranked opposition under Parsons.

Despite the rocky start to their life under their new manager, the Dutch still remain a team capable of beating any team due to the quality players they possess across the field.

Vivianne Miedema, Jill Roord and Lieke Martens go into the Euros off the back of another prolific season in front of goal at club level.

Their midfield options have been boosted after one-time Spanish international Damaris Egurrola switched her allegiance to the Netherlands and Danielle van de Donk’s recovery from injury.

The Dutch will be hoping to shake off their stop-start form to retain their title.

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Van Veenendaal, Wilms, Nouwen, van der Gragt Janssen, Gronen, Spitse, Pelova, Roord, Martens, Miedema

Key player: In Vivianne Miedema the Netherlands have one of the most ruthless goal-getters in world football. Her 92 goals for her country dwarfs the tally of any other player to pull on the orange shirt.

Young player to watch: At just 18 years old Esmee Brugts is the youngest player to be selected by Mark Parsons, having only made her debut in February. Edging van de Sanden out of the squad is a testament to her pedigree. After being named GOAL.com’s NGXN list for 2022, this summer’s tournament will allow Brugts to showcase her talents to a wider audience.

Portugal

Originally the final spot in Group C belonged to Russia.

But, following their invasion of Ukraine and subsequent suspension from international football by UEFA, their place was instead awarded to Portugal, the team they edged past in the playoffs to earn their spot at Euro 2022.

The past decade has seen Portugal rise up the international rankings. Just eight years ago they sat 49th in the world, a heavy drop from their current 30th placement.

It’s under the management of Francisco Neto that Portugal have enjoyed this climb up the rankings. Having guide them to their first major tournament in 2017 the 40-year-old will now take charge at a second successive European Championship

Their participation in a second successive European Championship can only help them reach the next level of international football.

Scoring was a problem for Neto’s side in qualification. Their 10 goals in eight games are perhaps a sign of why they didn’t qualify directly.

The one year since that play-off final defeat has been somewhat of a mixed bag for Portugal.

They’ve stuttered in World Cup qualification. An underwhelming draw with Turkey in their opening game was followed by a victory over Serbia and two defeats to already qualified Germany.

At the Algarve Cup, another one of the friendly tournaments hosted during February’s international break, they managed to beat Norway 2-0 in their opening game but lost by that same scoreline against the same opponent in the third-placed playoff.

In a way, this tournament is a no-lose situation for Portugal. The pressure is minimal as they aren’t expected to get out of the group.

The scope for disappointment is also low considering just a few months ago they didn’t expect to be at this tournament.

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-1-2) Pereira, Amado, Costa, Gomes, Marchão, Silva, Norton, Pinto, Kika, J. Silva, D. Silva

Key player: In 2019 Jessica Silva became the first Portuguese woman to lift the Champions League trophy. Her role at Lyon may have been bit-part, for Portugal that’s not the case.

Young player to watch: Francisca ‘Kika’ Nazareth is the standout young talent in this Portugal squad. The 19, who has already won the Portuguese title twice, possesses silky feet which will make you spring off your seat in excitement. Her two goals against Greece last month are also an indication of her final product.

Sweden

Last summer’s Olympic Games ended in heartbreak for Sweden. They impressed in Japan, thrashing world champions the USA 3-0 on route to the final.

But everything came crashing down in Yokohama. After 120 minutes of football in the claustrophobic heat, Canada would come out with the gold medal thanks to penalties.

Sweden looked set to build on their third-place finish at the 2019 World Cup but instead had to opt for the second place on the podium.

Strength in depth is the strongest attribute that Peter Gerhardsson possesses on his squad. And at a tournament which falls at the end of a gruelling season the importance of depth can’t be understated.

In attack they can call on Stina Blackstenius, Fridolina Rolfö, Lina Hurtig and Sofia Jakobsson.

Their midfield is full of highly-rated players like Kosovare Asllani, Filippa Angheldahl, Carolie Seger and Hanna Bennison.

Defensively they have strong options across the board from central positions to wing backs.

No matter how Gerhardsson opts to line up he will be forced to leave at least one of his supremely talented players on the bench.

It’s because of the strength of their squad and their showing in Japan that many have Sweden pencilled in as the champions to be.

Should they go on to meet those expectations and finally reach the top of the podium under Gerhardsson, it’ll be the first piece of silverware the nation has won since lifting the first European Championship in 1984.

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Lindahl, Glas, Sembrant, Ilestedt, Eriksson, Segar, Angheldahl, Asslani, Rolfö, Blackstenius, Hurtig.

Key player: Fridolina Rolfö was a vital part of the Barcelona squad that blitzed Spanish football and wrecked a path of destruction on route to the UWCL final. Where she is forced to play a deeper role for her club, with Sweden she is their attacking linchpin.

Young player to watch: Hanna Bennison heads into Euro 2022 off the back of a frustrating season at club level with Everton, who ended a torrid season in 10th place. The 19-year-old will be looking to shake off that disappointment and replicate her form from the Summer Olympics.

Switzerland

Swizerland only suffered a single defeat during qualification.

A second-place finish on 19 points meant they required the dreaded playoffs. The Czech Republic were their opponents.

A 90th-minute penalty from Ana-Maria Crnogorčević rescued a 1-1 draw in Chomutov set up a dramatic second leg in Thun.

After 90 minutes neither team could be separated. A further 30 minutes of extra time failed to provide a winner either. Penalties would be required.

Following five penalties each, the Czech Republic saw their European dream cannon off the crossbar as Kateřina Svitková fired her effort onto the woodwork. The fine margins granted the Swiss their passage to England.

Switzerland have reached three of the last four major tournaments, the 2019 World Cup the only exception.

At Euro 2017 they narrowly missed out on progressing from the group stage, finishing a point behind second-placed France.

Now those players who suffered disappointment will be aiming to go at least a step further.

Now coached by former Nils Nielsen, who took Denmark to the final in 2017, Switzerland now have a coach with experience of taking a team deeper in a tournament than expected.

That’s not to say this isn’t a squad with talent. Crnogorčević is seen by many as the best player in the history of Swiss women’s football.

Arsenal duo Noelle Maritz and Lia Wälti have been amongst the top performers in the WSL this season. And in Ramona Bachman, they have a player with vast experience on the elite stage

One player Switzerland will be without is Alisha Lehmann. The Aston Villa forward ruled herself out of the competition citing personal reasons.

It’ll be a tough task for Nielsen and co to progress from a group that contains the world number two and world number five.

A 7-0 loss to Germany followed by a 4-0 home defeat to England during their preparations also raise alarm bells.

Likely starting eleven: (4-2-3-1) Thalmann, Maritz, Bühler, Calligaris, Aigbogun, Wälti, Xhamaili, Reuteler, Bachmann, Sow, Crnogorčević

Key player: It’s thanks in large part to the goals of Ana-Maria Crnogorčević that Switzerland are at this tournament. And it’s the Barcelona forward they’ll be looking to for goals again this month. Arsenal’s Lia Wälti is also worth a mention in midfield.

Young player to watch: Wälti’s partner in midfield will likely be 19-year-old Riola Xhemaili. The teenager has established herself as an ever present in the team since making her senior debut in 2020.

Group D

Belgium

Belgium topped Group H by beating Switzerland 4-0 at home in their final game qualifer.

It was a qualification campaign littered with goals. Tine De Caigny enjoyed the most fruitful return, bagging 12 from seven matches.

Former Wolfsburg and Manchester City striker Tessa Wullart wasn’t far behind her with nine goals from eight games.

That goalscoring knack has continued into their World Cup qualification group where eight games has returned 49 goals, 15 of those coming from the boot of Wullart.

With a track record in front of goal as strong as that you may think the Red Flames are amongst the strongest nations in this competition, but tha”s not strictly the case.

This is only their second international tournament. Their first, like a few others competing this year, came five years ago at Euro 2017.

A third-place finish in a tough group which also contained champions the Netherlands, runners-up Denmark and an underwhelming Norway, injected some confidence into the nation.

Five years later they’ll be looking to build on a strong first showing and reach the knockout stages.

Under Ives Serneels, Belgium tend to deploy either a 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-3-3, often switching their system depending on their opponents.

They’ll need to sure up their defence against higher-ranked sides if they are to do just that. Recent games against England (3-0), Norway (4-0) and Spain (3-0) have seen otherwise solid backline leak goals.

Likely starting eleven: (4-1-2-1-2) Evrard, Deloose, Tysiak, De Neve, Philtjens,, Vanhaevermaet, Cayman, Biesmans, De Caigny, Wullaert, Eurlings

Key player: Tine De Caigny topped the goalscoring charts in qualification with 12 goals. 2 hat-tricks and five goals in a 6-0 victory over Lithuania. She’s continued that goalscoring touch in World Cup qualification, scoring 10 times with two games still to go. Tessa Wullaert also deserves a mention for scoring 15 times in WC qualification.

Young player to watch: 20-year-old Sari Kees was a star performer in defence for the incredibly youthful OH Leuven side which finished second in Belgium. Her club teammate Hannah Eurlings also shone as she scored six Super League goals.

France

France were the first team to announce their squad for this summer tournament. That in itself should have been a big enough talking point alone.

But, instead, it was the players that their boss Corrine Diacre decided to leave at home that dominated the conversation.

That should have come as no surprise as controversy has followed the former French international since taking the job in 2017, usually as a result of her tendency to world-class players at home.

The 47-year-old’s decision not to select Kheira Hamaroui wasn’t surprising given the current controversy surrounding the PSG midfielder.

Leaving out eight-time European champion Eugine Le Sommer and Bayern Munich attacker Viviane Asseyi seemed logical given the depth of attacking talent at Diacre’s disposal.

However, the decision not to select Amadine Henry was a curious one. Nine days previously the veteran midfielder put in a Player of the Match performance as Lyon clinched their eighth European crown.

Despite the surprising omissions, this is still a France squad bursting with talent meaning Diacre’s selection headaches are far from over.

It’s the wide positions that present the most challenging selection dilemma for the former French international. Which of their four extremely talented wingers will she select to support Marie-Antoinette Katoto.

Will it be her PSG teammates Kadidiatou Diani and Sandy Baltimore? Or will the 47-year-old opt to select one of Lyon’s speedsters Delphine Cascarino or Melvine Malard?

France have only lost once since the USA knocked them out of the 2019 World Cup, a 2-0 friendly loss to the same opposition in 2021.

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Peyraud Magnin, Perisset, Renard, Mbock Bathy, Bacha, Gayoro, Bilbault, Toletti, Diani, Katoto, Cascarino

Key player: When France left Marie-Antoinette Katoto out of their squad for the 2019 World Cup it sent shock waves through the footballing world. Three years on there’s no way Corinne Diacre could pull that same stunt. The 20-year-old that was left out has transformed into a 23-year-old machine fuelled by goals.



Young player to watch: At 21-years-old Selma Bacha already has four European medals and has established herself as a key player at Olympique Lyonnais. The left-sided player finally made her senior debut against Kazakhstan on November 26 and notched her goal four days later against Wales.

Italy

On paper Group B was Italy and Denmark’s to dominate. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Malta, Isreal and Georgia posed no real threat to their claim on qualification.

The only thing that remain to de decided was who would progress as group winners, and who would finish as runners up.

Empoli transpired to be the location where that was decided.

In front of an empty Stadio Carlo Castellani, Denmark came out 3-1 winners.

The victory would go a long way to ensuring they finished atop the group. A 0-0 draw followed in the reverse fixture, but even had Italy claimed victory the Dane’s goal difference was still too strong.

Instead, Italy would qualify as one of the three best second-place teams and therefore avoided the dreaded play-off.

Italy is a nation on the rise. A two-decade-long absence from the World Cup ended in 2019 and the domestic league is heading in the right direction too, just look at Juventus’ performance in the UWCL this past season.

This Italy squad is full of experience. Their captain Sara Gama, who’s earned well over 100 caps, is at the forefront of that.

It’s also a squad brimming with Juventus players.

Nine of the 23 players selected by Milena Bertolini play their club football the Italian champions. She’ll be hoping that Girelli and co can replicate their performances for the Bianconere in last season’s Champions League which saw them pick up wins against Wolfsburg and Lyon.

A strong defence has always been a characteristic of any Italian side. Three years ago in France, they demonstrated that by not conceding during regular time of their five games.

They’ve managed to maintain that defensive sturdiness, leaking just seven goals across 18 European Championship and World Cup qualifiers.

Italy’s only friendly in preparation for the tournament was a 1-1 against Spain, a scoreline which ignited intrigue and will have surely boosted confidence in the Italy camp.

Likely starting eleven: (4-1-4-1) Giuliani, RB, Gama, Linari, Boattin, Giugliano, Cernoia, Caruso, Galli, Bonansea, Girelli

Key player: Cristiana Girelli is the goalscorer in this Italy side. The Juventus forward has a knack for popping up with an important goal when it really matters.

Young player to watch: At 23 Martina Lenzini is by no means one of the youngest players to be highlighted in this piece. However, the versatile Juventus defender has a long international career ahead of her.

Iceland

A nation of just 336,000 people it still boggles the mind that Iceland can reach a major international tournament.

Unlike the men’s team who burst onto the scene at Euro 2016, the women’s side have a longer track record at this tournament having already competed in 2009, 2013 and 2017.

This Iceland squad is notable for its youthfulness. Þorsteinn Halldórsson has called on several young players who would have watched the men’s performances in 2016 with dreams of replicating their success.

Their squad is the youngest in the tournament, with the average age sitting at 24.8.

Iceland will also be aiming to improve on their lacklustre showing in the last European Championship.

With Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir as their captain and having been drawn in a group alongside two newcomers in Austria and Switzerland, confidence of achieving a second-place spot was high.

Instead, they failed to register a single point, finishing bottom of the group with their only goal coming in a 2-1 defeat against the Swiss.

This time, those levels of home expectations aren’t there which could play to their advantage. Their experienced players are at their peak and the new crop of youngsters will be looking to make a name for themselves on the big stage.

A victory against Belgium in their opening game could be the start of up a dream summer in England

Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Sigurdardóttir, Atladóttir, Viggósdóttir, Arnardóttir, Gísladóttir, Brynjarsdóttir, Gunnarsdóttir, Jónsdóttir, Vilhjálmsdóttir, Jónsdóttir, Thorvaldsdóttir

Key player: Having made her debut at 16 Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir has been a fixture in the Iceland squad for a decade. Now 26, she has already racked up over 100 caps for the national team.

Young player to watch: Iceland’s squad is packed with young talents to keep an eye on in England this summer. But the best of the pack is Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir. The current Icelandic Women’s Player of the Year has hit the ground running at Wolfsburg since returning from her loan in Sweden with Kristianstads DFF and will look to continue that form at the Euros. Keep an eye out for her wicked long throw too.

Winner: Picking a winner for this tournament is an unenviable task, but I can’t look past the hosts. England have a stacked squad of in form players and a manager with a track record of getting the most from the players she has at her disposal.

Top goalscorer: Hegerberg has wasted no time in returning to her goal-scoring ways and I expect that trend to continue in England. Her country’s opening game against Northern Ireland could see Hegerberg rack up the goals early in the tournament.

Dark Horses: Classifying a team that posses the attacking options of Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten as dark horses may seem like an overstatement. However, Norway have been drawn in the same group as England and could face a tough route to the final should they finish in second place.

Biggest Flop: The Netherlands form since Mark Parsons took the reigns in last year has failed to ignite much excitement. Despite finding themselves in a group they are expected to qualify from, they could come undone in the knockout stages.

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