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Women's World Cup qualifiers: What do the home nations need to qualify?

Rachel Furness, Keira Walsh, Sophie Ingle and Caroline Weir
Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland are all in action during this international window

Women’s World Cup qualifying continues this week and all four home nations are in action – but what do they need to progress to next year’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand?

England take on North Macedonia and Northern Ireland in Group D, while Kenny Shiels’ side also visit second-placed Austria in a crucial week.

Scotland host Spain, while Wales are up against group leaders France and Kazakhstan, with both home nations looking to get a foothold on a play-off spot.

Here’s everything you need to know.

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What do England and Northern Ireland need to qualify?

Group D Women's World Cup qualifying group table
England are yet to lose a game in qualifying so far

The top teams in each of the nine European qualifying groups will qualify automatically for the 32-team tournament, while the nine runners-up will advance to the play-offs.

England, who currently sit top of Group D, have a five-point lead over Austria and Northern Ireland, with four games remaining.

If England beat North Macedonia and Northern Ireland – and Austria fail to take maximum points – the Lionesses will qualify for the finals with two games to spare.

Austria’s first game is at home to third-placed Northern Ireland, who are level on points but trail on goal difference.

Shiels’ side are also mathematically in the hunt for top spot, but to keep their slim hopes alive they will probably need to beat England, or at least draw, along with defeating Austria.

Northern Ireland’s sights are more likely to be focused on the play-off spot. Victory over Austria, who scored an injury-time equaliser in a 2-2 draw in Belfast in October, would give a big boost to their chances.

Their games in September see them up against Luxembourg and Latvia, both of whom they have already beaten 4-0, while Austria host England.

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The Lionesses are unbeaten under Sarina Wiegman, having won all six games so far, and they have scored 53 goals, conceding none.

Their last victory was a 20-0 thrashing of Latvia and they visit North Macedonia, who they have beaten 8-0 already, on Friday.

England also come into this window fresh from success at the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup tournament, which saw them beat Germany on home soil for the first time in their history.

Northern Ireland are also in good form.

Their last two qualifying matches were against North Macedonia, who they thrashed 11-0 and 9-0 in the space of four days.

February’s camp saw Northern Ireland pick up a friendly win over the Faroe Islands, followed by an impressive draw with Switzerland – ranked 27 places above NI – and a narrow 1-0 defeat by Romania.

Can Scotland find missing goal threat?

Scotland’s chances of reaching the finals are very much in the balance.

They were due to face Ukraine this week – before the war delayed the game in Kyiv until at least 24 June, leaving them with a match against the world’s seventh-best side, Spain, at Hampden on Tuesday.

The Scots, currently ranked 23rd in the world, enjoyed a promising start to their campaign under new head coach Pedro Martinez Losa with two wins against Hungary, either side of a routine thrashing of Faroe Islands.

However, they needed a stoppage-time equaliser to save them from a surprise home defeat by Ukraine.

And that was followed by an 8-0 hammering at the hands of top seeds Spain.

None of their recent performances, which include a 3-1 defeat by Wales in the Pinatar Cup, suggest the Scots have the form to deny Spain – one of the favourites for the Euros – a sixth consecutive group victory this week.

Pedro Martinez Losa
Former Arsenal and Bordeaux boss Pedro Martinez Losa became Scotland head coach in August

Although Hungary lie third, they have games in Spain and Ukraine to come, so it is Ukraine who seem the real danger to Scotland’s play-off chances.

If they win at home to the Scots and the Hungarians, then second place is likely to come down to goal difference.

The problem for Martinez Losa is that, since Arsenal midfield dynamo Kim Little retired from the international scene in September, his team have struggled to create chances – or find a regular scorer.

With Steve Clarke’s side also waiting for a new date for their game with Ukraine in the men’s World Cup play-off semi-final, what price Ukraine’s footballers denying Scotland a place at both World Cup finals?

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Can Wales get anything against France?

Realistically, Wales are now playing for second in qualification group I as they target a play-off berth and a possible first major finals appearance.

Gemma Grainger’s side are currently where they want to be, in that runners-up spot, albeit with a five-point deficit to France, who have won all six of their qualifiers.

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Wales have 13 points from six games, losing 2-0 to France and holding Slovenia – who are two points behind them – to a 1-1 draw away from home.

They know their fate is in their own hands, with three wins out of four in their final qualifiers – against Kazakhstan, Greece and Slovenia – enough to ensure they reach the play-offs.

Wales have some breathing space too, with Slovenia the visitors in their last qualifier. As things stand, the onus is likely to be on Slovenia – rather than Wales – to win the match.

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This international break sees Wales host France on Friday before visiting Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Grainger’s side have been in good form at home – registering 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 wins over Estonia, Greece and Kazakhstan in qualifying – but are likely to face a much sterner test against a France side ranked three in the world.

But even holding the group leaders, who have already won in Slovenia, to a point on Friday would have a big impact on Wales’ qualification prospects.

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