1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Big scores in Europe's World Cup qualifying

December 5, 2021

England's thrashing of Latvia was one for the history books but, given other lopsided results Women's World Cup qualifying, not a surprise. The match exacerbates the problem for UEFA of how best to grow the women's game.

Frauenfußball | England v Latvia
Image: Andrew Yates/Newscom/picture alliance

Latvia's women's football team weren't traveling to England with high expectations for their Women's World Cup qualifier. The side is ranked 102 in the world by FIFA and they currently possess a very young squad. 

But losing 20-0 to England was certainly not the result for which they hoped.

"The result is, frankly speaking, a disaster for our football," Nina Travkina, the head of football development at Latvia's football federation, said in an email to DW.

"Of course, we did expect a lot of goals in the away match with our squad — the majority of the players are very young. But I did not expect so many goals."

The result was the biggest victory an English national team of any kind have had in international competition. Four Lioness players scored hat tricks, including Ellen White, who became England's all-time leading goalscorer.

So one could certainly describe the result as historic or disastrous, but perhaps the more apt designation, one that concerns European football's governing body UEFA, is non-competitive.

"That's not the result I or anyone wants to see," Nadine Kessler, UEFA's head of women's football, told DW. "That's not in the interest of developing women's football, particularly not in the interest of the team that loses by that much."

Ellen White (far right) celebrates her penalty goal in England's game against Latvia
Ellen White (far right) celebrates her penalty goal in England's game against LatviaImage: Kieran Riley/Zuma/picture alliance

Big disparity in World Cup qualifying

The lopsided scoreline between England and Latvia was one of 12 games in which one team scored 10 or more goals since European qualification for the Women's World Cup began in September. England's result came also less than a week after Belgium toppled Armenia 19-0.

Denmark, England, France, Germany and Switzerland are all a perfect six-for-six in qualification thus far, each possessing a canyon goal difference — England are the best of the bunch with 53 goals scored and none conceded. Meanwhile, nine countries, including Latvia and Armenia, have yet to register a point.

"The situation we have right now has never been so prominent," Kessler said. "You can sometimes have a higher result, but it cannot become a regular pattern or become so dominant like we see right now."

A stadium scoreboard showing Belgium 19-0 Armenia in Leuven, Belgium
The scoreline between Belgium and Armenia in Women's World Cup qualifyingImage: David Catry/BELGA/dpa/picture alliance

Kessler, a former FIFA Women's Player of the Year, has personal experience with lopsided scorelines. She scored twice for Germany in a 9-0 win over Russia during qualification of the 2015 World Cup.

"If you're the winning side, it's nice to score goals," she said. "But there is another side that doesn't have the same pleasure as you have if you are part of that winning side."

Kessler noted that the current disparity may not be solely down to the format. The coronvarius pandemic, she pointed out, caused many national associations to cancel games and domestic leagues to abandon seasons.

"Over the last two years, there were huge inactivity levels in women's football," she said. "Many players simply could not play and had no regular competition."

Evolving qualifying format

Unlike the other confederations, UEFA has not used its continental championship, the Women's Euros, as a means of World Cup qualifying since 1995. But finding the right qualifying format remains a work in progress.

Previous iterations either segregated lower-tier teams, like Latvia, out of the qualifying process or required them to participate in a preliminary round. In the current construct, however, resembles the men's qualifying system, separating 51 participants into nine groups.

Nadine Kessler sitting in front of a FIFA Ballon d'Or logo
Nadine Kessler is UEFA's head of women's footballImage: Getty Images/P. Schmidli

"There was a real push back then, even from national associations, to have everyone compete against each other," Kessler said. 

In theory, the current construct gives each country an equal chance to qualify for the World Cup. However, as Kessler alluded to, the format does not necessary help the progress of women's football when lower-tier teams are being battered about by their opponents.

UEFA open to change

For it's part, UEFA hasn't been opposed to trying something new, with Kessler saying national associations big and small are open to change regardless of results. The confederation recently overhauled its Champions League format from a straight knockout competition to one, like the men's, with a group stage.

But unlike the club competition, World Cup qualifying has already gone through many changes, and many ideas suggested by others have already been tried.

Belgium's Hannah Eurlings dribbles past Armenian goalkeeper Lena Andriasyan
Belgium gave Armenia much more than they could handle in a 19-0 winImage: David Catry/BELGA/dpa/picture alliance

"It's not as simple as saying, 'let's have a preliminary round or seed teams,' trust me," Kessler said. "Every four to eight years, it's been going backwards and forwards to formats we've already had, which tells you it's not that simple."

"If I could give you the recipe for competitiveness, trust me, I would," she continued. "It's so nuanced and it's so difficult to get it right. That's probably why, over time, it has changed so many times."

One possible fix on the table, Kessler revealed, is a Nations League that groups countries of similar strength into separate. After UEFA introduced the competition into the men's game in 2018, the format has slowly spread across football.

"The key point is how we can level the playing field overall for all levels of strength of national associations but also ensure that the smaller associations have enough competitions to encourage further investment," Kessler said.