Monday 07 August 2017, 09:34

European octet eye France 2018 slots

  • Women’s U-19 EURO gets underway on 8 August

  • Four 2018 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup berths available

  • Players to watch: Garcia (ESP), Cuthbert (SCO), Katoto (FRA)

With the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 having culminated on 6 August with a victory for the Netherlands, the spotlight has now turned on the UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship, which kicks off on 8 August. The four best-placed teams in the tournament will advance to the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, excluding France, who have already qualified as hosts.

Holders of the continental U-19 title, Les Bleuettes will begin their campaign with a match against the Netherlands in Group B, while the pool’s two other teams – Italy and England – will also lock horns. In Group A, meanwhile, hosts Northern Ireland get the ball rolling versus Spain in Belfast, and Scotland face Germany.

The top two sides in each section will qualify for the semi-finals and secure a berth at France 2018. If France reach the last four, a play-off match between the two third-placed teams in each group will determine the recipient of the final ticket for the ninth edition of the U-20 Women’s World Cup, which will run from 7 to 26 August.

The favourites Losing finalists for the last three years running, and appearing at the tournament for the fourth time in a row (a record), Spain will again be major contenders. La Roja, whose squad features several players who starred in the side that finished third at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016, certainly lived up to expectations during the qualifying campaign, chalking up six wins in as many matches.

EnglandandGermany, who were given byes to the elite round of qualifying, also claimed maximum points on the road to Northern Ireland. Although they did not shine quite as brightly as the Spanish at Jordan 2016, they did reach the knockout stages, and both represent serious candidates for the title.

Last but not least, the Netherlandsshowed that they were a force to be reckoned with during their qualifying campaign, managing to keep their goal intact throughout and advancing from a tricky group that included defending champions France, who have won the tournament four times – a record they hold jointly with Germany.

Players to watchTop goalscorer during the qualifiers with 11 goals to her name, on-form Basque forward Lucia Garcia will spearhead the Spanish attack. Just behind her in the scoring charts was another formidable striker, Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert, who has notched three goals in four matches for Chelsea, the club she joined in January 2017. And France’s Marie-Antoinette Katoto,who finished as top scorer in the 2016 edition of the competition in Slovakia, is again likely to cause havoc in opposition penalty boxes.

The stat 6 – Six of the eight teams competing for the U-19 title in Northern Ireland have previously been crowned champions at this level: Germany (four wins), France (four), England (one), Italy (one), the Netherlands (one) and Spain (one). Only Scotland and the hosts have yet to lift the prestigious trophy.

Did you know? Northern Ireland’swomen’s teams have never qualified for a FIFA tournament. The U-19 XI has an excellent chance of bringing that barren run to an end this year, and will rely on individual talents like midfielder Emma McMaster and forward Rebecca Bassett to do so.