Spain and Germany set for Arnold Clark rematch – Equalizer Soccer
We at The equalizer continue our preview of the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championship by diving into Group B. Earlier this week we covered Group A and broke down some of the players to watch this summer.
We now move on to a group that is widely regarded as the most intriguing in the entire tournament. Spain and Germany are among the favorites for the title. They are joined by two outsiders living in Denmark and Finland. Here we analyze the outlook, tactics and key players of the four teams.
Finalists of the last EUROs in 2017 and semi-finalists in 2013, Denmark have a good pedigree in this tournament. It will be hard to repeat those feats this time around though, as they end up in the toughest group in the competition. Nevertheless, after beating Italy to qualify, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
Lars Sondegaard aligns his team in a 3-4-3 system which ensures balance. Denmark always have four or five players behind the ball when attacking, which helps them defend the counters if they lose possession of the ball. Their outside centre-backs are responsible for advancing play, advancing the ball or picking forwards and full-backs. With a lot of height in the team, the Danes will also be dangerous from set pieces.
In Pernille Harder, Denmark have one of the best strikers in the world, someone who can play wide or through the middle. With exceptional movement between the lines, dribbling speed and an ability to score from anywhere in or around the penalty area, the Chelsea star adds flair to a team whose possession may otherwise be too secure and lateral.
Harder is supported by Signe Bruun, a solid attacking focal point, and Nadia Nadim, who returned from injury in time for the tournament. There is also an exciting new generation with Real Madrid wing-back Sofie Svava, 21, attacking midfielder Mille Gejl, 22, and playmaker Kathrine Kuhl, 18. For Denmark to progress, either Germany or Spain must fall in the group stage. It’s a tough question, but they have what it takes to create a surprise.
These are the bottom seeds, but Finland is not to be taken lightly. They won their qualifying group, ahead of Portugal and Scotland, conceding just once in four games against their main rivals for first place. It should also be noted that they are led by one of the most experienced head coaches in Anna Signeul, who already guided Scotland to their first ever EURO in 2017.
Preparations for the tournament have not been ideal. In World Cup qualifying, they lost at home to the Republic of Ireland and retired to Slovakia, leaving them with slim hopes of a playoff spot. They also suffered damaging defeats in February’s Tournoi de France, 5-0 to hosts France and 3-0 to an experimental Dutch side. A certain pride was restored in the last game of this friendly tournament, however, with a 0-0 draw against Brazil underlining the qualities that carried Finland through to this EURO.
Signeul likes the 4-4-2 and his team is compact defensively. Natalia Kuikka is a traveling winger for the Portland Thorns, but at international level she plays a key role within her team’s defense. On the ball, Finland look to play with passing triangles in the wider areas and still pose a threat with two good forwards up front. One of them, Sanni Franssi of Real Sociedad, retires to receive the ball; the other, Linda Sallstrom, runs behind.
Only two players in the team operate domestically. The vast majority play at a good level in Sweden; others ply their trade in England, France, Spain, Italy or the United States. Finland have talent and come tournament time they should be well organised. They may not reach the knockout stages, but expect them to make life difficult for one or two of their Group B opponents.
Germany went through qualifying, winning all eight games. Since then, however, their momentum has stalled with a series of disappointing performances. They took an injury-weakened side to February’s Arnold Clark Cup and scored just one point – a draw against EURO group rivals Spain. Then, in April, a shock 3-2 loss to Serbia in the World Cup qualifiers.
Serbia’s defeat highlighted Germany’s central defensive problems. Sometimes head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg experimented with midfielders like Lena Oberdorf in central defense, but it didn’t always work out well. Against Serbia, a pair of Sophia Kleinherne and Jana Feldkamp failed to deal with direct play from the opposition. Marina Hegering can help, but her return comes after an injury-hampered season in which she played just five Bundesliga games.
Dzsenifer Marozsan will miss the EURO due to a torn ACL. This undoubtedly weakens the German roster on paper, but it could simplify things in reality. In the past, Voss-Tecklenburg have squeezed as many attackers into their 4-3-3 system as possible, to no avail. When Germany met Sweden in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals, they fielded a midfield consisting of natural striker Alexandra Popp alongside playmakers Lina Magull and Sara Däbritz. They were too open and were counterattacked out of the tournament. Without Marozsan, Voss-Tecklenburg could now be forced to field a more balanced line-up.
Germany still has one of the finest attacking squads at this EURO. Tabea Wassmuth has featured in the Champions League this season, while 21-year-old Klara Bühl and 19-year-old Jule Brand have impressed. These players, alongside Popp, Lea Schüller and Svenja Huth, give Germany the firepower to score against anyone. The challenge will be to keep the ball out of their own net. To do that, it is imperative that they find a functioning centre-back partnership and a stable midfield.
As EURO approaches this summer, Spain are in a curious position. They find themselves favorites, although they have never passed the stage of the quarter-finals. This is partly due to Barcelona’s emergence as a true continental superpower at club level. This team will provide the majority of the Spanish first XI, including goalkeeper Sandra Panos; centre-backs Irene Paredes and Mapi León; midfielders Aitana Bonmati, Patri Guijarro and Alexia Putellas; and traveling forward Mariona Caldentey.
With a core of this quality, it’s understandable that Spain come into this tournament as serious contenders. But their status is also the consequence of external factors. To put it simply, this competition is wide open: the Dutch, defending champions, are in transition; Germany is no longer what it was; France have been hampered by off-pitch controversies; and hosts England are only now recovering from two years of terrible performances.
Spain have no problem keeping the ball. However, the age-old problem remains: how do they break down stubborn defenses? At the 2019 World Cup, they failed to score in the group matches against Germany and China, and beat South Africa with two penalties scored by Jennifer Hermoso. In four recent friendlies against top opponents – Brazil, England, Germany and Canada – they have won only once and scored just three goals.
Hermoso will miss EURO due to injury. Esther Gonzalez is a capable assistant, but a different kind of striker. This can alter attack dynamics. On the wings of his 4-3-3, head coach Jorge Vilda can count on promising youngsters in Claudia Pina, Athenea del Castillo and Amaiur Sarriegi. Spain will almost certainly dominate possession in every game they play this summer, but turning that into regular goals will require an end product from an untested front line at this level.