2017 Women’s Euro: Handicapping Group B

Group B is the exact opposite of Group A. Instead of having 4 teams of relatively equal quality we have the best team in Europe – Germany – a perennial championship contender – Sweden – and a pair of filler teams – Italy and Russia -. The only real questions here will be whether Germany can sweep the group and whether Sweden is able to hold it together or if they are posed to completely fall apart.

Country FIFA Ranking Odds to Win Group
Germany 2 3 to 2
Sweden 9 5 to 1
Italy 18 17 to 1
Russia 25 101 to 1

Germany Still Reigns Over Europe

The Germans have owned women’s soccer in Europe for over 20 years. Need proof? Germany has won the Euro tournament every 4 years since 1997, and the tournament was held every 2 years before that where they lost just 3 times: 1984, 1987 and 1993. The Germans come into the tournament having won the last 6 iterations, ,but their stranglehold on the championship is more tenuous than ever. A number of teams, most notably the French and English, have started to improve their women’s programs significantly. While the rest of the world has been improving, the Germans have slipped just a bit. They are in a slight rebuilding cycle with a new coach and a number of new faces on the team, but they still should run through this division with few issues.

The only way that the Germans could come 2nd in this group would be if the Swedes manage to steal away a victory from the Germans while beating each of the other teams. The Germans have beaten top competition in the months leading up to the tournament, including wins over England, Canada and Brazil, with their only loss coming against the USA in America during the She Believes Cup. Germany doesn’t play many games because they rely on their domestic league to keep the players fresh, but they allowed zero goals against them in the 8 qualifying games for the Euro. In short, anything less than 9 points from the group would be surprising.

 

Sweden

Despite earning silver at the 2016 Olympics, this Swedish side is in serious trouble. Sweden has scored just 4 goals in the 9 games they’ve played this year that weren’t against Russia. While the defense is solid, they have become a team that sits back in a bunker and never pushes forward on attack. To this point, in their 8 qualifying matches they scored just 22 goals. Compare that to the 35 that Germany scored or the 26 that Italy scored or the 39 that Spain scored…well you get the point. Even against significantly worse opponents the Swedes just weren’t putting balls in the back of the net.

Now that said, Sweden is far superior to the two other bottom-dwelling teams in their bracket. Russia is one of the worst teams in the tournament this session and Italy is inconsistent at best, so Sweden shouldn’t struggle too much to take 2nd in the group and move to the knockout round. They just probably won’t find much success against the top-level teams once they get there.

 

Italy

The Italian side was good about 20 years ago, but they haven’t really been competitive since. They got extremely lucky by drawing into a terrible qualifying group for this tournament, and they lost twice to a mediocre Swiss side on their way to qualification. It is very unlikely that they would have qualified from at least 5 of the other 7 groups of teams, but that is all in the past and they are here now. Fortunately for the Italians they come into a group with a perfectly beatable slate of teams in Sweden and Russia, although Germany is a non-starter.

There are two possible paths for Italy to surprise everyone and make the knockout stage. Both paths require beating Russia while losing to Germany, but they could realistically tie or beat Sweden. Unfortunately for the Italians, they play Sweden in the final match of group play. If they were playing Sweden in the first match they could play to a 0-0 draw, something Sweden is built for, and then try to take second in the group on goal differential. Both sides will know exactly what the situation is going into the final match, so this method won’t work well. Instead, the Italians will have to try to not get beaten down too badly by Germany while they pile 4-6 goals on the Russians during the first match as padding. The other alternative is to beat the Swedes outright, but that will be extremely difficult if Sweden knows that they only need to tie. All-in-all, the odds are long for Italy to make the knockout stages.

 

Russia

If the odds don’t tell the whole story, lets take a look at the results from the last few tournament-quality teams that the Russians have face in the last few months:

  • Lost to Netherlands 4-0
  • Lost to USA 4-0
  • Lost to USA 5-1
  • Lost to Belgium 2-0
  • Lost to Canada 2-1
  • Lost to Denmark 6-1
  • Lost to Sweden 4-0

Surely there must be some silver lining? Well the Russians did beat Portugal 1-0, so I guess the silver lining is that they are just the second worst team in the tournament this year. If the Russians come away with even a single point they will have to be happy.

 

Final Prediction

Germany first and Sweden second is safe and logical. Anything different would be a huge surprise, even if the Italian side is capable of coming second if they play amazing soccer.

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