The UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 will take place in England this summer, with the tournament now only just around the corner.
The competing countries have had in front of them their respective maps to glory since the group stage draw was made in October. But competition is so fierce and it is incredibly tough to predict who will rise above the rest to go all the way.
Here’s how every qualifier ranks when it comes to lifting the trophy…
*Only 15 teams have been included due to ongoing uncertainty about Russia’s participation/no formal decision from UEFA on a potential replacement
In reality, Northern Ireland’s greatest achievement is qualifying for a first ever major tournament rather than what they might actually be able to do once the competition kicks off.
Placed in a tough group from which England and Norway would be expected to make it to the knockout stages, anything at this point is a bonus for these players. The underdog tag might even suit them.
Northern Ireland are adamant they are not just at Euro 2022 to make up the numbers, but it is difficult to see them picking up points.
Finland are back at a major tournament for the first time since 2013 and a semi-final appearance at Euro 2005, ironically the last time the competition was held in England, feels like a very long time ago.
The Finns were probably denied a realistic chance of getting past the first round as soon as the group stage draw was made and they were matched with eight-time champions Germany, the wildly popular Spain and the always dangerous Denmark.
They simply don’t have the star quality of their opponents.
Austria are in a similar boat to Northern Ireland in Group A when it comes to being an underdog to England and Norway.
Yet they arguably stand a slightly better chance of upsetting the odds and recently beat Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in Vienna.
Austria did reach the semi-finals at Euro 2017 and were only denied a place in the final by virtue of a penalty shootout. But they did have the more comfortable route and it remains their only major tournament to date.
Switzerland are still relative newcomers to the international tournament scene, having only previously competed at the 2015 World Cup and Euro 2017. But a nicely blended squad suggests they shouldn’t be ignored.
Ramona Bachmann, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic and Lia Walti are based at some of the biggest club sides in Europe, while the sometimes inconsistent Alisha Lehmann has game-changing potential.
The biggest obstacle is somehow managing to progress from a group that contains the FIFA top ranked European nation (Sweden) and the reigning champions (Netherlands).
Belgium are stuck in the middle when it comes to international football, not yet good enough to properly compete with the biggest nations, but too good for the minnows – as evidenced by last year’s 19-0 win over Armenia.
They have never qualified for a World Cup and only reached a European Championship for the first time in 2017.
The majority of the current squad play their club football at home, but Janice Cayman is at Lyon and Justine Vanhaevermaet plays for Reading. Tessa Wullaert, meanwhile, has been at Wolfsburg and Manchester City.
Iceland have been at three previous European Championship tournaments, but have twice gone home with three defeats in three group games – they reached the quarter-finals in 2013.
They have a chance of getting through the group stage and matching their run from nine years ago if they can beat Belgium and get a positive result against Italy, but it is an ‘if’ rather than likely.
There is a good mix of youth and experience in the squad, with players based at clubs throughout Europe, including top veterans Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir and Dagny Brynjarsdottir.
Italy could be considered a dark horse here. The Azzurri were one of the original powerhouses of women’s international football in Europe in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, despite never lifting this trophy, and are only just moving back towards some of that former status.
They impressed at the 2019 World Cup, unexpectedly reaching the quarter-finals after breaking out of a tough group and would have every reason to expect a knockout appearance at Euro 2022 as well.
That being said, a likely quarter-final against one of the two main favourites, is almost certain to see their journey end there. Others who may be less sure of initially getting through the group stage could feasibly go further in the knockouts if they make it there. Like the next up…
Despite failing to qualify for any World Cup since 2007 and only one since 1999, Denmark have a bizarre habit of putting good runs together when it comes to the European Championships instead.
The Danes got to the semi-finals in 2013 and were runners-up last time in 2017. They also have one of the world’s best players in Chelsea’s Pernille Harder, who is complemented by a very capable support cast.
The biggest challenge will be getting out of a group that also contains strong Spain and Germany sides. If they can get one over on either of those, they could be another surprise package, but it will be extremely tough.
For all of the incredibly talented players they have had, France have probably underachieved on the international stage over the last 10 years, having failed to reach a semi-final since the 2011 World Cup.
Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer are still some of the very best around but are all now over 30. Others in and around the squad are much younger and/or lack international experience, which points to a slight imbalance, although Marie Antoinette Katoto is one to watch.
Never write the French off, but their past record doesn’t suggest success is suddenly all about to fall into place.
Writing off Germany is always a mistake, but the rest of Europe has fully closed the gap on the eight-time former champions, who won six Euro tournaments in a row between 1995 and 2013.
The Germans only reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2017 and again at the 2019 World Cup, which had a knock-on effect of denying them a place at the last Olympics. In 2021, they also lost friendlies against Netherlands and France, before finishing bottom at the 2022 Arnold Clark Cup.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a good German team. It is. Most of the squad is based in the Frauen Bundesliga, which is a strong league. But the level of competition internationally, where once perhaps lacking, is now so strong.
Spain are the new force in women’s international football. They have been threatening a breakthrough for some time and made eventual champions United States work hard for a 2-1 victory in the World Cup last 16 in 2019.
A considerable number of the Spanish contingent play together at club level for a superb Barcelona side. Even though they haven’t quite done it before on the international stage, that alone makes them hugely dangerous.
Midfielder Alexia Putellas was the best player in the world in 2021, while they have quality right the way through the team. The only thing that may hold Spain back is a lack of depth beyond those Barça stars.
Norway’s chances got a sudden and huge boost when superstar striker Ada Hegerberg decided to end her absence from the international scene, having made her unavailable since 20017 as a stand against inequality.
Hegerberg has returned from long-term injury this season and needed only an hour of her very first game back – a World Cup qualifier against Kosovo – to score a hat-trick.
Norway will be battling for top spot in Group A with England and have every chance of at least reaching the semi-finals if things go right. Remember, beyond Hegerberg the squad is littered with top class and/or experienced players like Caroline Graham Hansen, Ingrid Engen and Guro Reiten.
Having emerged as a real international force between 2015 and 2019, England arguably started going backwards after the last World Cup, with tactical systems not working and repeat weaknesses flaring up in games.
But a change in manager from Phil Neville to Sarina Wiegman, via interim Hege Riise, has freshened things up – Wiegman was the coach overseeing all of the recent Dutch success so it bodes well in that respect and has led an incredibly ruthless 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign already.
England have already lost world class star in Fran Kirby due to illness, but Lucy Bronze is back from a recent injury, Ellen White remains a big game player and a new generation of younger stars like Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo have all had outstanding club seasons.
Netherlands are reigning European champions from 2017, before then going on to reach the World Cup final two years later.
It underlines their rapid growth as a top tier nation, having never even played at a major international tournament before 2009.
They won’t have home advantage at these Euros, which arguably played a role in their success last time, while coach Sarina Wiegman has also moved on to take charge of an England side looking to achieve that goal. But the Dutch will always score a lot of goals and are therefore a match for anyone.
It feels as though Sweden have been building towards something special over the last five years and this could be their opportunity for everything to come together for a first tournament triumph since 1984.
The Swedes finished third at the last World Cup, sandwiched between two Olympic silver medals. Their performances in Japan last summer, particularly as they demolished the United States in the first game, were widely praised and they actually finished unbeaten owing to the gold medal match against Canada being decided on penalties.
The squad has a strong blend of youth and experience from veteran legends like Caroline Seger and Hedvig Lindhal, to players like Fridolina Rolfo, Stina Blackstenius and Lina Hurtig in their prime, to very young but equally important talents like teenager Hanna Bennison.