In the four years since the last Women’s Euros, in Sweden 2013, the women’s game has changed almost beyond recognition.
The sport’s profile has been ratcheted up significantly in that relatively short space of time and between now and the final on August 6 we’ll see the second biggest tournament in the world of women’s football played out on a platform that wouldn’t be out of place in the men’s game.
The tournament kicked off over the weekend in the Netherlands; the host cities being Breda, Deventer, Doetinchem, Rotterdam, Tilburg, Utrecht and Enschede, where the final will be played (at FC Twente Stadion).
The competition, which is run by UEFA in line with the men’s equivalent, was originally a biennial tournament but changed to every four years in 1997 to avoid a clash with the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Between 1987 and 1995 it was a four-team competition, it was increased to eight between 1997 and 2005, twelve between 2009 and 2013, and now it has been expanded to sixteen.
Unsurprisingly Germany have been dominant in the competition, winning eight times – in 1989, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013 – in an amazing run that includes victory at the last six consecutive championships.
Sweden took the first title in 1984, Norway won it in 1987 and 1993, and the only other nations to reach finals have been England (1984 and 2009) and Italy (1993 and 1997).
The championship’s first 16-team format follows the traditional route with the teams initially split into four groups of four with the top seeds being kept apart. The top two teams from each group will then progress through to the knock-out stages, which begin on 29 July.
The groups are as follows:
Group A: Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway
Group B: Germany, Sweden, Russia, Italy,
Group C: France, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland
Group D: England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal
In terms of the highest ranked teams, eight appear in the current FIFA top 20:
- 2nd: Germany
- 3rd: France
- 5th: England
- 9th: Sweden
- 11th: Norway
- 12th: The Netherlands
- 13th: Spain
- 15th: Denmark
Clearly Germany are the team to beat, not least because in addition to winning the Euros on six consecutive occasions they also won Olympic gold in Rio 2016. Their coach, Steffi Jones – who won this competition as a player in 1997, 2001 and 2005 – has been in charge since 2005 and has an almost unblemished record when competing against European opposition.
The German squad is renowned for having strength in depth and have coped with some key retirements with no dip in quality; many of their younger players having had experience of winning trophies at youth level.
The German’s strongest challengers are expected to be France, who have a squad packed with players from Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, and many of whom played in this season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Despite a burgeoning reputation they have under-delivered in the last two championships – exiting on both occasions at the quarter-final stage on penalties.
They confirmed their pedigree by winning the prestigious SheBelieves Cup in March, beating England and world champions the United States in the process, while drawing with Germany.
England, Europe’s best performers at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, are arguably the best of the rest and will take great confidence from the fact they beat Germany in the bronze medal match.
Norway too, runners-up last time, will be hopeful of progressing deep into the tournament, along with fellow Scandinavians, Sweden, who will again be looking to progress safely into the knockout stages.
Among the rest, the Spanish squad is recognised as being one laced with talent, along with Switzerland, while home advantage for the Netherlands could prove beneficial, especially with big crowds expected for their games.
In Group A, Denmark will fancy their chances of progressing but will likely be competing with the Netherlands and Norway for a place in the top two; home advantage being considerable for the Dutch. Belgium are the group’s outsiders.
Assuming the Germans will comfortably qualify from Group B, it’s a battle for second but in a group that also contains Sweden it looks a big ask for Italy and Russia to progress to the knockout stages.
Iceland, in their third consecutive finals, will likely be left chasing the French in Group C but will come under pressure from the talented Swiss. Austria will be the group’s outsiders and will likely find the going tough but are capable of springing a surprise.
In Group D, England will start clear favourites but will be pushed all the way by the Spanish. An injury-hit Scotland squad will find it difficult to break into the top two, along with Portugal, who begin the tournament as one of the outsiders.
In terms of which players to look out for…
Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands) – a prolific striker who recently signed for Arsenal is key to the hosts’ hopes.
Ada Hegerberg (Norway) – UEFA’s current Player of the Year was joint-top scorer in qualifying with ten goals and now plays for Lyon.
Dzsenifer Marozsán (Germany) – another Lyon star who’ll be one of the big performers of the tournament.
Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden) – the Chelsea keeper performed heroics in the Rio Olympics and will be hoping to replicate this form over the next three weeks.
Wendie Renard (France) – the French captain is their rock at the back and also pops up with important goals from set pieces.
Jill Scott (England) – a key player for Mark Sampson’s England, this tall midfielder will be central to her countries chances.
There are two trials taking place, the first being that sides will be allowed to use a fourth substitute in extra time, and the second that yellow and red cards can be issued to team officials in technical areas.
Such has been the German’s dominance it’s difficult to see past them but the English will fancy their chances, especially given their success against them in the last World Cup. Therefore England 8/1 to win the competition (with 888sport) looks good value.
France at 3/1 to win the tournament also looks a reasonable bet for those hopeful of tripling their money, but for those looking for a punt on an outsider with a chance look no further than Spain at 14/1.
Winners: France – 3/1
Austria to beat Switzerland (18-4-17) – 14/5
England to reach the final – 11/5