Wow, it feels like at least a year has passed since I last wrote something here. I went into a hibernation of sorts starting in July after the WWC and only started to emerge late in the year. Last fall was heavy with many personal and professional challenges, and I must admit football fell far away from my attention span. I did write down a few items during the hibernation which may wind their way onto the blog at some point. But for now, I want to get everyone refocused on women’s football for just a (large) smidge.
Did you know a mini-WWC is about to happen?
February 10 – March 10 marks the final women’s football qualifying period for Rio 2016. Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, South Africa, Zimbabwe have already qualified. There is still one spot for OFC, one for UEFA, two for CONCACAF, and two for AFC up for grabs. A total of 20 teams will be competing for these remaining six spots within a four week timeframe.
Sound exciting? Hells yeah!
OFC Qualifying Tournament
The second stage of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) tournament was to take place October 2015 but was postponed to January 2016. There are only two participants, with Papua New Guinea qualifying out of the first stage back in July 2105 and New Zealand qualifying automatically as the highest OFC-ranked team from the WWC.
January 23: Papua New Guinea vs New Zealand
January 26: New Zealand vs Papua New Guinea
Side note: Papua New Guinea is host to the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. This tournament will take place November 13 – December 3, 2016.
CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament
The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) tournament takes place February 10-21 in Texas. Eight teams are participating: U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. Unlike every other Olympic qualifying tournament, this one has a knockout stage and both semi-finalists will qualify for Rio.
February 10: Puerto Rico vs Mexico; U.S. vs Costa Rica
February 11: Guatemala vs Trinidad and Tobago; Canada vs Guyana
February 13: Costa Rica vs Puerto Rico; Mexico vs. U.S.
February 14: Guyana vs Guatemala; Trinidad and Tobago vs Canada
February 15: Mexico vs Cost Rica; U.S. vs Puerto Rico
February 16: Trinidad and Tobago vs Guyana; Canada vs Guatemala
February 19: Winner Group B vs Runner-up Group A; Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B
February 21: Winner semi-final 1 vs Winner semi-final 2
Side note: As the reigning Olympic and World Cup champions, it’s a safe bet the U.S. will be one of the qualifying teams.
AFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament
The final round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournament takes place February 29 – March 9 in Japan. Six teams are vying for 2 Olympic berths: Japan, North Korea, Australia, China PR, South Korea, and Vietnam. Top two teams based on total points earned will head to Rio.
February 29: China PR vs Vietnam; Australia vs Japan; North Korea vs South Korea
March 2: Australia vs Vietnam; Japan vs South Korea; North Korea vs China PR
March 4: Vietnam vs North Korea; South Korea vs Australia; Japan vs China PR
March 7: China PR vs South Korea; Vietnam vs Japan; North Korea vs Australia
March 9: South Korea vs Vietnam; Australia vs China PR; Japan vs North Korea
Side note: Japan enters this tournament deficient captain Homare Sawa who retired December 2015, and Ayumi Kaihori who just announced her retirement. How the team comes back together, especially without Kaihori, will be interesting to watch.
UEFA Olympic Qualifying Tournament
This European tournament is last in calendar order, and takes place March 2-9 in Netherlands. This is essentially a play-off tournament stemming from the WWC final standings last year.
Normally, the top three UEFA teams at the WWC automatically qualify for the corresponding berths at the Olympics. England, Germany, and France were those teams in 2015; however, England is disqualified from participating because they are not an Olympic nation. England competes as part of Great Britain which includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each of the latter countries also have national women’s football teams. To the surprise of no one, these four countries disagreed on allowing England’s national team to represent Great Britain for the tournament so…SOL.
The fourth UEFA qualifying team should then take the spot, right? Not quite. This is only true if no other team was eliminated at the same stage as that fourth team. In fitting fashion, there was a four-way tie for fourth place. 4 for 4! Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were all eliminated in the round of 16, resulting in this play-off tournament to determine who gets the last Olympic spot.
March 2: Norway vs Sweden; Switzerland vs Netherlands
March 5: Norway vs Netherlands; Sweden vs Switzerland
March 9: Switzerland vs Norway; Netherlands vs Sweden
Side note: Think it is safe to say this could be the most intense qualifier grouping of them all. If nothing else, it will be a great preview for Euros 2017 which will also take place in Netherlands.
Broadcast schedules are not set as of yet, other than Fox Sports NZ covering the OFC games. It is highly likely Fox will carry some of the CONCACAF matches as well (aka U.S. team only). You can keep watch here as the schedules are released.