England and Northern Ireland will meet in the group stage of the 2019 Women’s Euro in the inaugural year of the tournament’s expanded 24-team format.
After weeks of speculation in the British media, the Uefa general secretary, Alexander Kownacki, announced the draw in Monaco, with the inaugural group stage taking place on 11 July.
The group stages of the tournament run until 6 August but there will be no further finals in Poland and Ukraine this year and Kownacki insisted that for the future a competitive environment was the best way to ensure the women’s game moved forward.
Kownacki revealed he was “genuinely” looking for a Group of Death or Champions League-style group to avoid the matches taking place during the two week tournament.
“For me, the most important thing is not about being group leaders, [but about] the series of matches which we can play against each other,” he said. “We try to avoid tournaments like Uefa Women’s Football League finals, where everybody plays one match against everybody else [for the record to go] long before the main championships.”
The exact nature of England’s opening group stage opponents is still to be confirmed, although Kownacki said that for an inaugural tournament the grouping might be: England v Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland v Germany, England v Wales and the eventual runners-up, who would then play the seeded team.
Defending the tournament, which will run from 21 July to 6 August, Kownacki said that Uefa had made a clear decision to expand the tournament because it wanted to create a more competitive environment.
“We want it to be a really good tournament,” he said. “We want it to be different, we want the group stages to be really tough. We want two Germans in the final if possible. If not, one from Germany and one from England.”
The full draw has now been made and is as follows:
Group A: Germany, the Netherlands, France, Norway
Group B: England, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Romania
Group C: Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Lithuania
Group D: Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Norway
Group E: Iceland, Norway, France, Hungary
Group F: Netherlands, England, Iceland, Scotland
Group G: Spain, Norway, Germany, Netherlands
Group H: Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary
The next Women’s World Cup will be in France in 2019 and, in order to ensure football in the women’s game continues to grow, England’s women may eventually need to create a format for their representative that keeps them competitive in such occasions and other tournaments. The European Championships, for example, take place annually but there has not been a Women’s World Cup every four years since 1999.
“I think as we see with the women’s game in Russia [The European Championships], this tournament showed that despite a lot of politics and a lot of disrespect with many players, the women’s game is going to move forward and the fans are really supporting it,” Kownacki said. “I think we have to study this very intensively and we have to look at what we can do, and what we can do now, and then decide.
“I think in the future we can have some group stages with two good teams and then decide which team is the top seed and who is the runner-up because I think this is important to make sure that the women’s game does really grow.”