Two more fates were sealed in the fight for the final UEFA berth in the 2019 Women’s World Cup Tuesday night. A few weeks ago, the four second-place teams with the highest point totals in their groups during Women's World Cup qualifying were drawn against each other in two-legged playoffs.
Denmark faced off against the Netherlands in a highly anticipated repeat of last year’s Euro final while Belgium looked to get through Switzerland to step one closer to its first-ever World Cup berth.
On Friday, the Dutch bagged a comfortable 2-0 win at home against the Danes thanks to two first-half goals by Lineth Beerensteyn and Shanice van de Sanden. The match to the south of them that same day, on the other hand, was a little more interesting. Underdog Belgium looked to be on its way to a 2-1 victory and a great position going into the second game, but an 87th-minute equalizer by Alisha Lehmann spoiled its day as the teams played to a 2-2 draw.
On Tuesday, in the second legs, Beerensteyn proved to be the heroine yet again as the Dutch came back to earn a 2-1 away win after an early Nadia Nadim penalty saw them go down a goal. In Switzerland, the Belgians saw their World Cup dreams slip away when the game ended 1-1, a heartbreaking result that knocked them out on the away goals rule.
Now the Netherlands and Switzerland will battle in a final two-legged playoff with tentative dates for November 5 and 13. The winner will clinch the coveted last European spot in Women's World Cup qualifying.
Belgium was always a bit of a Cinderella team in this scenario and has a lot to be proud of for not only making it to this round but also playing a strong Switzerland side to brink, nearly pulling off the upset.
For Denmark, however, the failure to qualify is nothing short of disappointing. The Danes made life more difficult than they needed to in a crucial time. They were head-to-head with Sweden in UEFA Group 4 for months, looking to perhaps nudge out their Scandinavian neighbors for the automatic berth as the group’s top finisher. A shock 1-1 draw against last-place Croatia in the penultimate match followed by a 1-0 loss to the Swedes at home, however, saw that they would go to the playoff.
The talented Dutch side featuring the likes of Leike Martens once again got the best of the Danish, just as they did a year ago in the 2017 Euro final and with that the dream was burst.
Proficiat dames! @oranjeleeuwinnen #DanNed #DenNED1-2 met een goal in de laatste minuut/ extra tijd van #Beerensteyn
Op naar #Zwitserland #GameOn (Beelden Veronica ) pic.twitter.com/dxZ3i3AfiT
— Kansrijk NL (@KansrijkID) October 9, 2018
Though it was one of the original, perennial contenders in the women’s game back when it was first growing in the ‘90s, Denmark has not qualified for the final tournament since the 2007 edition. The past few years have seen a bit of a rebirth for the Danes and France 2019 looked to be ripe for their return to the biggest stage.
With the Danes' elimination, next summer’s World Cup will be without some big names.
Former Portland Thorns and current Manchester City forward Nadia Nadim is one. Pernille Harder, who has experienced a meteoric rise in the past couple years, is another. As a forward for Bundesliga champion and UEFA Champions League runner-up VfL Wolfsburg in the 2017-18 campaign, Harder has earned a flurry of individual accolades and nominations. She recently won the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year award and the 2017-18 Champions League Player of the Season award, beating out Lyon stars such as Ada Hederberg and Amadine Henry. She was also shortlisted for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Award and was just recently announced among the nominees for the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or.
Pernille Harder is the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/AUsi2DcyJj— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 30, 2018
A World Cup without Harder is a shame but as has been the case on the men’s side for years, not everyone can have a seat at the World Cup table. The upside, however, is a clear indication of the growing talent spread around more than just a handful of nations. Hopefully we will see her in 2023.