While Fiorentina Femminile is going through somewhat of a rough patch at the moment, seven of our girls have a chance to represent their countries this week, in the Euro qualifiers.
We should of course be looking forward to those Euros taking place in England next summer, instead, as the men’s tournament was pushed back from this year to next, so too the women also found their competition delayed by a year. The qualifiers go on however, and for some these next games will be crucial to their chances of appearing at the final tournament in July 2022.
Italy find themselves in a good position having won seven out of seven so far, thus guaranteeing themselves at least a play-off place, if not a possible automatic runners-up spot which go to the best three second placed teams. Their ambition of course is to top the group and guarantee themselves a spot in the main event. To do this, they need to go to battle with a Denmark squad that includes our own Frederikke Thøgersen.
The Danish midfielder played the full 90 minutes in Sunday’s disappointing loss at home to Verona. Both Italy and Denmark are tied at the top of Group B, with maximum points, with the free scoring Danes having the much better goal difference. They have scored a total of 41 goals in their seven games so far, and have yet to concede one. Before they take on Italy, they will be expected to add more to that goal tally when they face Israel at home in Viborg on Wednesday evening. Up to now our midfielder Thøgersen hasn’t managed to get in the starting line up for her country during these qualifiers, but she will most likely be on the bench, ready if she is called into action.
The big game, though, is of course at Empoli on Tuesday 27th October. The sides will meet again in Denmark in December, but this game here could go a long way to deciding who gets that coveted top spot. Included in the Italian squad for this all important match are Fiorentina’s Katja Schroffenegger, Alice Tortelli, Marta Mascarello and our top scorer so far this season, with 6 goals, Daniela Sabatino.
Sabatino and Mascarello have already been to a Euro Finals, the last one in 2017. Although they failed to emerge from the group stage there, Sabatino did score 2 goals in their win over Sweden. As Denmark finished runners-up in that tournament, (including Thøgersen), they know only too well how tough of an opposition they will be.
Daniela Sabatino has scored 3 goals so far in this qualification series. She also played the full match against Verona on Sunday, receiving a yellow card near the end as desperation set in for the Viola women. She’ll be hoping for better luck against the Danes, and she’ll be happy to know that the goalkeeper who denied Fiorentina so many chances in that last game will this time be on her side. Francesca Durante is of course technically another Fiorentina player involved in this Italian squad, but she’s currently on loan at Verona. She put in an amazing display on Sunday to keep her old team mates from scoring. Will that display have impressed Italy boss Milena Bertolini enough to oust Juve’s Laura Giuliani? Possibly not, she may need to be happy with a place on the bench, alongside Fiorentina keeper Katja Schroffenegger. Katja wasn’t available for the loss to Verona but she is in the Italy training camp.
Our players won’t have too far to travel, as they’re based at Coverciano in Florence. Marta Mascarello is another who didn’t appear in Fiorentina’s match day squad on Sunday, but she did start in Italy’s last game, a 5-0 win away to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Another player who started that game, and made her first ever appearance for the senior national side, was our own Alice Tortelli. The Florence born defender, who has been with our club since Fiorentina took over her old Firenze side, really impressed on her international debut. She will hope for another chance to impress, and to qualify for a major tournament having already represented Italy at Under 17 level at a World Cup finals.
It’s not only our Italian players (and our Danish international) who have a big game during this part of the qualification series. Our summer signing from Wolfsburg, Cláudia Neto, is of course captain of the Portugal national team.
In Group E, Portugal have only managed to play two matches so far, with their last couple of games in September ending up getting postponed. As many countries’ national leagues hadn’t yet started due to the delay caused by the Covid situation, UEFA decided to reschedule some of those qualifying matches. Coming up now for Neto’s Portugal is a double header against Cyprus. On Friday 23rd they will travel to Larnaca in Cyprus before welcoming their opponents to Estoril on Tuesday 27th for their home tie. With so few games played in this group so far, especially for Portugal, it’s still a tough one to call. Finland are on top with 10 points but they have played 4 matches, whereas Portugal have 4 points from their 2 games, putting them 2 points behind Scotland who have also only played 2. Portugal’s last qualifier goes all the way back to almost a year ago, when in November 2019 they drew 1-1 at home to leaders Finland. Captain Neto had put her side 1-0 up in the first half, from the penalty spot, only to see Finland equalize in the 90th minute.
With Cyprus sitting at the bottom of the group after losing all three games so far, and conceding 14 goals without scoring any themselves, Cláudia Neto will be hoping her side can get maximum points from these two clashes. With 129 appearances for her country, Neto is the most experienced player in the squad, and she has also scored 18 times for Portugal. Portugal however, have only ever qualified for one major tournament, which was the last Euros in 2017, in the Netherlands. Neto captained her country in all 3 group games at the tournament, where they did only manage one victory, but it was against another rival from this current qualification group, Scotland (which contained our Scottish striker Lana Clelland). Cláudia will be hoping they can do the same when the sides eventually do meet in December. Scotland also have 2 games coming up in this series of games, with Albania and Finland, so the group picture should look a little clearer after these results are all in.
The last (but by no means least) of our players on international duty this week is another of our summer signings. Joining us from top English club Arsenal, having helped them win a league title there, was of course the Republic of Ireland star defender Louise Quinn.
Louise did miss Fiorentina’s last outing, due to an early red card picked up in the previous loss at Juventus. She has played in all our other games since joining though and is an ever present in the Ireland side throughout this qualification in Group I. Quinn hasn’t actually missed one minute of action in Ireland’s six matches so far, an ever present in the heart of the Irish defense.
At the moment Louise finds herself in Duisburg, Germany, where the Irish squad is preparing for a crunch tie against Ukraine in Kyiv this Friday 23rd October. Ireland have never qualified for a major finals, so Quinn will be hoping she can be a part of Irish football history. Germany top the group with maximum points from 6 games. Ireland’s last outing was in fact against the Germans, a 3-0 loss away in Essen.
With Germany having scored 34 goals in their 5 matches before this one, without reply, Ireland did take one positive from this game, they managed to hold the Germans scoreless for the second half. Considering Germany put 8 past Ireland’s next opponents Ukraine in both their matches, this was no mean feat.
Ireland currently lie in second place, basically a draw in this game will guarantee at least a play-off place, which would be a great chance for them to qualify. They still haven’t given up hope of getting one of those coveted three best runner-up spots which would mean automatic qualification. To do that they really need a win here, and then they have one final game, the home tie with Germany in December. That best runner-up place is a big ask, and a complicated one. It all depends on other group results of course, at the moment Ireland find themselves as the 4th best team of the second place teams, just behind Iceland on goal difference. It’s really too early to look at that though, with quite a few games still left to play, especially in some of the other groups.
Of course a win here and at home to Germany, together with the Germans losing their other qualifier at home to Greece, and Ireland would top the group! Realistically though, Louise Quinn and the rest of the Irish squad will just be focusing on Friday’s game. In their last meeting, Ireland did come out on top. In front of over 5,000 fans in Dublin, they won an exciting tie 3-2. Ireland had looked to be well in control with two early goals, but Ukraine came back with two goals of their own before half time. Ireland however, did manage to get the winner after the break.
That game was over a year ago though, and it was also the first game in charge for new manager of the Irish team, Vera Pauw. Ireland certainly got themselves an experienced coach with the Dutch woman coming in. Pauw has previously managed her home country, taking charge of the Netherlands for almost 6 years, taking them to a Euro semi final in 2009. Since then she has coached the national sides of Russia and South Africa and her last job was in America as manager of NWSL side, Houston Dash. Pauw was actually the first Dutch woman to go abroad to play professional football, when she signed with Italian side Modena back in 1988.
Louise and her team mates will take a charter flight from Germany on Thursday to take them to Kyiv for this massive tie. This is certainly not a common occurrence, the Football Association of Ireland wouldn’t normally go to this expense, but the current Covid situation has prompted them to fork out some cash for this trip. Quinn and the Irish women’s squad have had their issues with those in charge of Irish football before, like many of those involved in playing for their national side, they certainly didn’t receive anything like the treatment their male counterparts did.
This though, is another type of battle, and Louise Quinn has had plenty of those, hopefully her experience and defensive talent can help this Irish team take one step closer to qualification for England 2022. Louise has made 80 appearances in the Ireland jersey and earlier this year was voted Ireland’s Senior International Player of the Year, and not for the first time. Ukraine will not make it easy for Quinn and her side though, they may be 7 points behind Ireland for that second spot, but they do have a game in hand, so they know that a win here is their only chance of keeping their hopes alive. It’s going to be another exciting tie between these two.
Best of luck to all our players who will be appearing for their countries around Europe over the next week. This is their chance to shine, and they are all still in with a good chance of qualifying for the main event!