My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
This week saw the draw for the qualifiers for the 2017 UEFA European Championships, which will be held in the Netherlands for the first time. But what is the history of the competition?
The First Tournament
The first edition of the tournament took place in 1984 (over the two months before the male equivalent in June) and was called the European Competition for Women’s Football. This was because only sixteen teams took part in the qualification stage, less than half the UEFA membership – therefore the UEFA branding could not be used as it was not an official tournament.
Qualifying took place between 1982 and 1983, and saw the countries divided geographically into four groups of four – only the group winners progressed to the main tournament. Each group was a home and away round-robin as shown below:
The main tournament started with two-legged semi-finals. As there was no official host country, the games were played in the teams’ country. So, for example, in the semi-final between England and Denmark, the first leg was played in England (Crewe) and the second in Denmark (Hjørring). With twenty days between the semi-final legs, the tournament feels more like the Champions League rather than a major international tournament.
England and Sweden progressed to the two-legged final, which had the same attitude to location. Sweden defeated England to lift the trophy – unsurprisingly on penalties, although it should be noted extra-time was not played.
The next edition came in 1987, and this time the tournament was hosted by Norway – who went on to win the trophy. Apart from that, the same structure remained. 1989 saw West Germany host the tournament, and once again it was the hosts who won it. The phrase “the champions are Germany,” has become synonymous with the championship.
With 18 countries entering the qualification stage for the 1991 tournament, it was finally made an official UEFA competition – and renamed to the UEFA Women’s European Championship.
The qualification stage began with five groups: two with three sides (where the group winner progressed) and three with four countries (the top two sides progressed). A Quarter-Final stage then decided the four teams who progressed to the main tournament – Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The main section of the Euros retained the same format, and once again Germany won.
The next edition, 1993, saw the qualification teams increase to 23 – split into seven groups of three and one group of two? The group winners progressed to the Quarter-Finals, and nothing else in the format changed.
Despite the numbers in the qualifying stages increases, it would take until the 1997 tournament to see an increase in the number of countries in the main tournament – four to eight.
The qualification campaign was peculiar, split into Class A and B. Class A had the chance to qualify for the 1997 tournament, whilst the Class B sides were playing for the right to qualify for the 2001 tournament.
This system remained in place until 2009 Euros which had been expanded to 12 sides. The qualification began with a preliminary round which consisted of the 20 lowest ranked countries, split into five groups of four. One of the countries in each group were designated as host, and they played a round-robin tournament – with the group winners progressing to the Qualifying Stage. Here, thirty countries were split into six groups of five, with the group winners qualifying automatically. The runners-up, along with the four best third placed countries progressed to a playoff and the winners of the two-legged ties progressed to the tournament.
The 2009 Euros tournament began with three groups of four, with the top two teams going through. The other two places came from the best two third-placed teams. It then progressed to the Quarter-Finals. Germany won the tournament again, this time beating England 6-2 in the final.
For the 2013 Euros Qualification, the preliminary round was reduced to two groups of four. This meant the main stage was seven groups, with the group winners qualifying along with the best runners-up. The other six runners-up partook in a play-off to decide the final three places.
With the 2017 Euros expanding to 16 teams, once again there has been a change to the qualifying process – the preliminary stage stayed the same. There are now eight groups of five, with the group winners and the six best placed runners-up qualifying. The final two runners-up will play a play-off to decide the final place. The tournament itself will have four groups of four, with the top two teams progressing to the Quarter-Finals.