It’s somewhat of a cliché while also not being far from the truth that there is always a “group of death” at any major tournament draw, and Group B for Euro 2022 instantly takes that rather unwanted tagline for those in it.
For those not involved, it offers several mouth-watering clashes and certainly for the thousands of fans who will go to watch Germany, Spain, Denmark, and Finland battle it out across Brentford and Milton Keynes next July.
Germany had only failed to win the tournament when participating once before 2017, largely dominating the European landscape before they were knocked out in stunning fashion by then huge underdogs Denmark thanks to a late strike from Theresa Eslund [then Nielsen] in the Netherlands four years ago and 2022 will offer an opportunity for revenge for the former Queens of Europe.
Throw in a Spain side that is rapidly climbing up many people’s list of favorites for the tournament and a Finland side with little to lose under the guidance of experienced Scandinavian head coach Anna Signeul, and all the elements are there for what should be a superb group, with one almost certainly set to face hosts England in the quarterfinals.
Germany head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who earned 125 caps for the country as a player, will be aiming to re-establish her side at the top of the European game after taking over the team in 2019, but admitted such a strong group shows the improving quality of the women’s game and the support more nations are getting from within.
“We have worked a long time to have this kind of quality across a tournament,” she said. “I started in 1983 and I’m here now, the support is there now, the quality in Europe is so close, it’s good and it will be a great tournament here in England.”
Speaking about the challenge of the group in general, Voss-Tecklenburg added, “It’s a tough group. We have high quality in every team so we will see what each game brings. I think it can be good in a tournament to start with some tough games, if you go hopefully to the quarterfinals you are right in the tournament.
“We have a lot of respect for Spain, Denmark, and Finland. They are all very different types of teams, different styles of football, but we have a strong team, a young team, and I’m looking forward to this tournament — sixteen high quality teams. I was coaching Switzerland when Denmark beat Germany but it’s a good game. We know they are strong but we are also a strong team.”
The much anticipated clash against Euro 2017 finalists Denmark will be the first game of Group B for both sides at Brentford’s Community Stadium on July 8, with the Danes also under new management since the last tournament with then head coach Nils Nielsen now in charge of Switzerland.
Lars Søndergaard is the man tasked with going one step further and despite Denmark, led by Chelsea forward Pernille Harder, being the strongest side from Pot 3 on paper, it’s arguable they couldn’t have been placed in a much tougher group and just to make it to the quarterfinals would be an achievement based on the quality available to both Germany and Jorge Vilda’s Spain side.
“I knew from the beginning that it was going to be difficult,” admitted Søndergaard. “I think a lot of nations were afraid of meeting us from the top three and therefore we also knew that it was going to be very difficult group.
“If it’s Germany or Spain, in a way, it doesn’t matter, but we’re dreaming of coming through the group. We hope to come up with some surprises. We have a good team at the moment, and we’re confident of doing something. I think the two teams that go through this group here, they have a chance to go all the way.
It’s a strange concept for a side that reached the final at the last tournament in 2017 to be classed as both underdogs and third favorites for success in the group, but the growing strength of the European game has done just that, and Søndergaard is hoping that status can help Denmark thrive in the same way they did four years ago.
“In a way we knew that we were going to be the underdog so I haven’t thought much about it. In a way, it’s a new feeling from the qualification games when you’re always the top nation, but of course, I hope we can surprise and I know that the players are totally convinced they can do something.
“I think we are all dreaming about it [going one further]. Now across the road we have the Theatre of Dreams [Old Trafford]. That’s what also football is made of. We’re dreaming of it and know that if you go through the group stages, everything can happen. So that’s what we are planning.”
If Denmark are classed as underdogs, Signeul’s Finnish side couldn’t have asked for a bigger baptism of fire as they return to the elite end of the women’s game since 2013, but they come into the tournament with some established names in the European game and plenty of young talent.
With players in the current Helmarit squad spread across sides such as Juventus, Portland Thorns FC, FC Rosengård, and Real Sociedad, Finland should be underestimated at their peril, though Signeul knows they have been put in probably the toughest group possible.
“It’s a tough group, but I think it’s a group where all the teams can take points from each other. I think the other three teams in the group will all be looking to go very far in this tournament, all three of them, if not trying to win it, so that makes it a tough group but it also gives us opportunities; we are just cherishing this opportunity to come to England.
“We’re not seeing ourselves as beaten in this group, we perhaps see ourselves as underdogs but I think that suits us quite well. We have done really well in the qualifiers to get here. We won a group with both Scotland and Portugal in the group and showed what we can do. I think we have a promising team, some good young players who will be even better in a year. We could have had an easier group but I don’t think there is an easy group now, there are 16 very good teams.”
If Finland is looking for any inspiration they can look back to the last European Championships to be hosted in England in 2005 when they reached the semifinals, finishing above Denmark and England themselves in the group before going out to Germany in the semifinals.
“I think we’re just really looking forward to it, added Signeul. “I’m excited to come here with Finland, it’s been fantastic for Finland because they were here in 2005 and did a really great tournament and went to the semifinals.”
As if the group wasn’t tough enough, Spain will be looking to do better than ever before with a team filled with players at the very top of their games.
La Roja has never been beyond the semifinals and that was in 1997 before failing to qualify in 2001, 2005, 2009, and two subsequent quarterfinal appearances in 2013 and 2017.
A quarterfinal appearance this time though would be no surprise, nor would it shock anyone to see Vilda’s side go beyond their previous best from 1997 and make it all the way to the showpiece final at Wembley at the end of July.
Having played 10 games so far in 2021, and winning all 10 without so much as conceding a goal, it’s perhaps no surprise they have so many members of the all conquering FC Barcelona team which has enjoyed mirrored success in equally dominant style domestically this year.
Whether it be UEFA Player of the Year Alexia Putellas in the midfield, striker Jenni Hermoso, center back duo Mapi León and Irene Paredes, or goalkeeper Sandra Paños (plus many more), the national team is littered with the same players who swept up the domestic trophies in 2021.
Despite that, Vilda acknowledged the group was the most difficult on paper, agreeing with his counterparts that it’s an open group where anyone could take points off the other.
“It is without a doubt the toughest group out of the four,” he told SEFutbol after the draw. “It is a very even Euros in which the level is very even among all the teams. Each game is going to be a conquest if we want to win it. They are known rivals against three teams we have faced in the past. We know what awaits us and we will prepare as best we can.”