Four days, 27 matches and countless permutations but finally we know the seven teams (England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Spain) who directly progress to the World Cup as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Demark and Belgium will battle for the last remaining place via the play-offs.
Already confirmed a third-place finish, second highest seed Russia redeemed themselves with their last two matches, hitting both Kazakhstan and Bosnia for three in a busy five days at the Sapsan Arena.
One of the five groups with second playing first for the spoils, all eyes were on Newport as Wales attempted to go one better than their meeting in Southampton with England and finish top. A dogged first half had the teams level at the break before the walls came crashing down for Wales, Toni Duggan’s opener fast doubled by Jill Scott before Nikita Parris wrapped the match up nine minutes later.
Having claimed top spot, there was nothing more for Phil Neville and his Lionesses to do in Pavlodar than a lap of honour, a barrage of changes and his youthful team hammered the hosts, finishing with six goals.
For Wales it was a case of sit and wait for the other matches to wrap up, the Dragons needing Belgium to lose or draw and Iceland to lose for them to progress to the play-offs, neither result going their way.
A quick-fire brace had the hosts well on top in Paisley, the Scots knowing a win by two goals would be enough to put them ahead of the Swiss in a tie-break situation. Rallying well, the visitors responded instantly as Lara Dickenmann cut the deficit in half and gave La Nati an all important away goal. The frantic start to the match not matched by the further 83 minutes, the result left to stand leaving the Swiss top of the group on their head-to-head record, only success in their last matches enough to confirm the standings.
Having a torrid time in qualification with a rash of problems off of the pitch, Poland finished their campaign with a flourish, getting the better of Belarus, four goals to one in Minsk before holding Switzerland scoreless in Mielec. The draw meaning a win for Scotland would have them snatch automatic qualification from the top seeds, Kim Little’s early goal cancelled out by Megi Doci at the end of the first half. A winning effort from Jane Ross after the hour enough not just for the win in Shkodër but enough for Scotland to pip Switzerland to the top spot, clinching their first ever Women’s World Cup appearance.
A qualification of highs and lows for the Republic of Ireland, Colin Bell’s team finished on a high with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Northern Ireland in Dublin, their northern neighbours left to taste defeat four days later at the hands of Slovakia. The match was a special one for the hosts as it saw Julie Nelson claim her 100th cap, a first for any Northern Irishwoman. However, Dominika Škorvánková’s first-half goal was enough for the win, giving Slovakia their first points of the campaign.
Dispatching the hosts in Senec with ease, Norway closed the gap on group leaders the Netherlands to one, their 1-0 loss in Groningen in October giving the European champions the edge in the group. Imitating the Scots against Switzerland, the hosts took an early lead with two quick-fire goals, Ingrid Syrstad Engen and Isabell Herlovsen respective sixth and seventh-minute goals leaving the Dutch with it all to do. Finding their footing in the match, the visitors reduced the deficit on the half hour, leaving the match on a knife-edge, a draw enough for the Netherlands. Despite their best efforts, the visitors couldn’t find a second goal in Oslo and Norway kept up their perfect record of World Cup appearances.
Following Sweden’s loss to the Ukraine, Denmark were well placed to pip their Nordic neighbours to the top spot until a nervy match in Viborg saw them drop two points to Croatia, Nadia Nadim’s stoppage time equaliser enough to keep their hopes alive. Putting a strong foot forward, Peter Gerhardsson’s side easily dispatched with the Ukraine in Gothenburg, memories of their loss in June fast fading thanks to goals form Elin Rubensson, Magda Eriksson and Kosovare Asllani.
Wrapping up their failed qualification on a high note, Volodymyr Reva’s side saw off Hungary with two first-half strikes to cement their place in third.
Elsewhere, Denmark and Sweden went head-to-head for the top spot, a draw enough for the visitors, a win the only way through for Denmark. Despite a shaky looking defence, the Danes did well to reach the break without having conceded, though their attack lacked enough bite to suggest a winner, Sofia Jakobsson’s goal at the start of the second half followed without response, Blågult once again World Cup bound.
Top of the group coming into the match, Iceland knew if they could just hold off the visitors and claim another historic win, they’d be at the World Cup, no easy task. Storming out of the blocks the hosts pressed their visitors well but unable to keep the pressure on, fell back and conceded a fatal goal just before half time. With one to her name already, Svenja Huth doubled the advantage late in the game leaving the hosts with nowhere to go, Germany all but confirmed to reach another World Cup.
Having beaten Slovenia by two goals to nil at the end of August, the Czech Republic came out fighting in their second match, aware a win would lift them to second in the group. With other results going against them, Iceland needed a win to reach the play-offs but just like their first meeting in Znojmo, the pair had to share the points after another 1-1. A missed stoppage-time penalty from Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir denying Iceland second chance at qualification.
Finishing with a show of strength, Germany put eight past the Faroe Islands at Tórsvøllur to leave the Nordic side the only team without a single point in qualification.
Confirmed a third-place finish and playing for pride, Portugal put seven past Moldova before coming from behind to hit Romania for five in Felgueiras. Battling to keep their play-off hopes alive, Belgium were granted a reprieve in Botoșani when they snatched all three points at the death, courtesy of Ella Van Kerkhoven. Needing a win against Italy who had yet to drop a point in qualification, the Red Flames had their work cut out for them but came out fighting in Leuven. Davinia Vanmechelen’s brace bookending Cristiana Girelli’s penalty, the second half not without its chances but the score stood until the whistle, Belgium leapfrogging both Iceland and Wales to claim the last play-off spot.
In the most low-key group of the window, there was little that could change, the standings all but confirmed, no more so than after Spain’s clinical 5-1 win over Finland on Friday. Needing not just a win, but a win by a least two goals to claim second spot from opponents Austria, there was little the Fins could do as the hosts eased away, eventually sealing a 4-1 win.
The only team left standing with a 100% record in qualification, not having dropped a single point, Spain kicked off the last match of the group stages against fourth-placed Serbia in Logroño. A foul on Vicky Losada in the first minute setting the tone for the match, the hosts a goal to the good two minutes in, a second for Jenni Hermoso followed after Amanda Sampedro’s strike ten minutes before the break. Serbia well bested and Spain left to wrap up proceedings with a perfect record.