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  • Writer's pictureWomen's Sports Exchange

European Championships Preview: Group A Teams

This article was worked on by multiple members of the WSX team, and we wanted to give them each a quick shout-out for their hard work. Jess Simpson wrote the Austria, England, and Northern Ireland previews while Tone Veastad Rasmussen wrote the Norway preview!


Austria

Austria made their debut in a major tournament at the 2017 Women’s European Championships, reaching the semi-finals and eventually placing third. Nobody could’ve expected this, and affection grew for the team, with names like Manuela Zinsberger and Viktoria Schnaderbeck becoming household names. 14 members of that 2017 team were chosen for this roster, with top scorer Nina Burger retiring in 2019. However, mainstays such as Zinsberger and Montpellier midfielder Sarah Puntigam were named to this roster. Two of Austria’s brightest young players, Lisa Kolb and Maria Plattner, will miss the through injury, which will hit the team hard.

With the first game against England, Austria will face a big challenge right out of the bat, with seven losses in seven games against the Lionesses, but could still pose a threat to the other teams in Group A.

Photo courtesy of Koobit

Players to Watch

An obvious player to watch for Austria is Bayern Munich midfielder Sarah Zadrazil. Zadrzail won the Bundesliga title in her first season with the German club, and was a key player for Bayern this past season, helping them to the Champions League quarter-finals. With 96 appearances for her country, and as one of the 14 players from the 2017 tournament, Zadrazil brings experience to the roster. About the team’s run in 2017, Zadrazil said “I will never forget that tournament: the experience of being the underdog then making it to the semi-final and seeing a whole country become euphoric.”

Another player to watch is Germany’s 22 Women’s Footballer of the Year, Nicole Billa. With 74 goals in 139 appearances for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Billa has been a standout striker for the German side, winning the Golden Boot this past season. At the age of 26, Billa has already made 79 appearances for her country, and is the second top scorer, bringing experience despite her youth. Following legendary striker Nina Burger’s retirement, there came a big question as to who was going to fill her shoes and take up the role as the main striker for the Austrian National Team, and that answer came in the form of Nicole Billa.

A wildcard player that might surprise people is midfielder Barbara Dunst. Having just completed an outstanding season with German side Eintracht Frankfurt, Dunst poses a real threat to opposition with her pace and technical ability. Dunst was a part of the 2017 roster but did not play a single minute. Now 24, and in her prime, Dunst could be a game-changer for this roster, with her ability to dribble past players and send in long-distance shots. Dunst is a player that is almost certain to start on the wing, providing support to Billa in the center. During World Cup qualifying, Dunst scored 4 goals, putting her as the second-highest goalscorer behind Billa.



England

Following consecutive semi-finals in major tournaments for England, the hosts are poised to make a run for the trophy in this year’s Women’s European Championship. Having recently won the Arnold Clark Cup against some strong competition, the Lionesses come into this tournament on a hot streak. Under new coach Sarina Weigman, the Lionesses have won 12 of their last 14 games, setting them up for a good run in the tournament, with wins against Germany and current European champions, The Netherlands, under their belts.

With a home soil advantage, England comes into this tournament with some serious talent across the field. There are top-class players in every position for this team, with 25-year-old Leah Williamson leading the pack. Despite some noticeable players missing from the squad, neither Steph Houghton nor Jordan Nobbs were included on the final roster, top-scorer Ellen White will play a crucial part in the team, as will veteran midfielder Jill Scott.

Photo courtesy of @Lionesses /Twitter

Players to Watch

With an average age of 26, this England squad is full of young talent.

After playing only 6 minutes at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Arsenal center-back Leah Williamson will not only start in her first major tournament for the Lionesses, but she’ll also do it as the team’s captain. With only 31 senior caps and very limited tournament experience, Williamson would not have been most people’s first choice captain in the absence of Steph Houghton. "Leah is a leader on the field. She’s really composed and I think she’s actually improved as a player since being given the role of captain, I think the best are the ones who, when given that level of responsibility, it takes them onto another level,” Ellen White told The Scotsman.

Another player who will have a huge impact on this tournament is Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp. Hemp is an exciting player that everyone loves to watch, who had 16 goal contributions in 22 WSL games this past season, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award for the third consecutive year. Former England winger Sue Smith told Daily Star Report "She’s someone who can win a game on her own. Whether that’s beating a player and pinging one in the top corner or being creative and setting one up for somebody else. I think she’s going to be key,”

Manchester United duo Ella Toone and Alessia Russo could pose a threat during the tournament. The two combined for 15 goals and 11 assists this WSL season, and have become a lethal attacking threat for The Reds. While Toone will likely stick in her usual role as a No. 10, Russo has the ability to play anywhere along the attacking line and could play as either an out-and-out striker or on the wing. It would be great to see the two start the first game for England, with their opener being at Manchester United’s Old Trafford. On what to expect if she does find the net next week, Toone said: “I’ve always in my head ran over to the Stretford End, no matter where I’m scoring, I’m running to the Stretford End. I never usually do a knee slide, but for some reason when I dream about scoring at Old Trafford, I’m knee sliding, I’ve dreamt that a lot of times, way before this tournament!”



Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Women’s National Team will make its major tournament debut this summer at the 2022 European Championships. After only losing two games in qualifying, both against fellow Group A team, Norway, Northern Ireland clinched the runners-up spot in their group. Following two wins in the playoffs, their qualification dream came true.

Northern Ireland will come into the tournament with large home support, but that may not be enough for a team made up largely of domestic players, playing in the part-time, amateur Irish Women’s Premiership. “We had amateur players who were going to work in supermarkets, in hospitals. The majority of our squad is made up of that,” Coach Kenny Shiels said after the team secured their qualification.

Photo courtesy of William Cherry/Presseye

Players to Watch

33-year-old Liverpool midfielder Rachel Furness will be a key player for Kenny Shiels’ side. With 38 goals in 85 appearances, she is the team’s leading goalscorer, which is made even more impressive by the fact she took a two-year break from playing due to an injury in her early 20s. After helping Liverpool gain promotion to the Women’s Super League this season, Furness is on a hot streak and could bring that into the tournament for her country. About being her country’s top scorer, Furness said “I just feel excitement every time I put on that green shirt, I just feel proud and I'll do anything to score for my country.”

Another player to watch out for is Everton forward Simone Magill. Magill was the first female player from Northern Ireland to sign a professional contract when she signed for Everton in 2013, aged 18. Since then, she has made 95 appearances for The Toffees and was the team’s player of the season in 2019. In June 2016, Magill set a new world record for the fastest goal at the international women's level, scoring 11 seconds into the game, beating USA forward Alex Morgan’s previous record by one second. After making her international debut in 2010, Magill has appeared for Northern Ireland 57 times, scoring 17 goals.

Julie Nelson is a player who has been involved with this Northern Ireland team for 18 years, making her debut in 2004. The 37-year-old has made 124 appearances for her country, most of those as an amateur player. In 2018, the defensive linchpin became the first player from Nothern Ireland to reach 100 international caps - current men’s captain Steven Davis is the only player to have made more appearances for the country. In the run-up to the Euro 2022 play-off matches, Nelson said “Becoming the first female to reach 100 caps for Northern Ireland is a standout personal achievement. I’m also very proud to be part of this current generation of players with Northern Ireland creating history.”



Norway

Norway are looking to redeem themselves after the disaster that was the 2017 Euros. Three losses and zero goals scored had the team and federation wonder where things went wrong and how to turn it around. Martin Sjögren’s squad is a young one but with lots of experience with some of the biggest clubs in Europe represented. With Ada Hegerberg back on the national team after five years, Caroline Graham Hansen in form, and Maren Mjelde back from long-term injury things are looking bright. Not only is the return of Hegerberg a godsend to the Norwegian team, especially after Isabell Herlovsen retired, whose been lacking a “goal-getter” type of player. She also provides a threat to the opposition's defense that they must respect and leaves more room for Guro Reiten and Graham Hansen.

It is a very exciting team Sjögren is bringing to England. Celin Bizet Ildhusøy and Elisabeth Terland are young exciting attacking players. A big problem for Norway over the past years has been the lack of an actual back at the right and left-back positions. For this tournament, it looks like he will use players who are primarily wingers and are better going forward than defending. The goalkeeper position was also up for grabs right before the New Zealand game seeing as starting GK, Cecilie Fiskerstrand tore her ACL at practice just a month before the tournament starts. The three goalkeepers Sjögren is bringing with him have a collective of fewer than 300 minutes played for the national team. Guro Pettersen seems to have been the preferred choice over Aurora Mikalsen and 19-year-old Sunniva Skoglud.

Norway is considered a dark horse and could be looking to go far if everything works out. The biggest question is obviously the goalkeeping and the defense.

Photo courtesy of @nff_landslag /Twitter

Players to Watch

My player to watch from this Norwegian team is Man City´s Julie Blakstad. The 21-year-old is used in the left-back position by Sjögren but prefers to play on the left side of the attack at her club. She loves to go forward and can deliver precise crosses or hammer a ball into the back of the net with her left foot. Blakstad has a strong physique, cannon of a left foot, and the pace to be able to provide width going forward and defending.

Elisabeth Terland and Celin Bizet Ildhusøy are two young attacking players trying to break into the starting XI. Terland is having an amazing season with her club, SK Brann, and is the tied top scorer of the Norwegian League. She can play both as a striker and more on the wing. Her physical abilities are what make her such a threat in front of the goal.

Bizet went to PSG from Vålerenga ahead of the 2022 season, and has had some trouble getting minutes but has taken care of the opportunities she's gotten. Nicknamed “Cuba foten”, The Cuban foot, she has amazing technical abilities and is not afraid to show off a little. She plays with energy and finesse to feed her teammates the ball and is also very capable of scoring goals herself.



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