• Five teams will qualify for the group stage of Women’s World Cup qualifying
  • Kosovo and Andorra making their debut
  • Group stage draw: 25 April 2017

After Asian teams kicked off qualification for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup this week, 16 European sides begin their own quest to reach the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ on Thursday. The preliminary round of qualifying for the biggest tournament in women’s football will be played in Georgia, Albania, Lithuania and the Faroe Islands between 6 and 11 April, with the group winners and the second-placed side with the best record against first and third place moving forward into the group stage.

This group phase signals the official start of qualification for European governing body UEFA, as 46 of the continent’s teams battle it out for one of 16 spots at the Women’s World Cup finals in France. Several new, and as yet, unknown teams will be joining the traditional heavyweights this time around.

In Group 1, Georgia and Latvia will be hoping to progress to the group stage after missing out four years ago. While their rivals from Kazakhstan and Estonia made it one step further that year, neither managed to book a ticket to the finals.

Among this year’s preliminary round debutantes are Kosovo, who are preparing to start a new chapter in their history by contesting their first competitive fixture. Coach Aferdita Fazlija’s side will take on Albania, Greece and Malta in Group 2. This is the Albanians’ second appearance at this stage of qualifying after the country took part in a women’s competition in every age group for the first time in 2013. They progressed to the group stages at the first attempt before finishing their campaign in last place behind Greece.

Group 3 plays host to another newcomer, as Andorra kick off their inaugural qualifying bid against Moldova before taking on Israel and Lithuania. Placed 53rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, Israel are clear favourites to top the group.

Group 4 includes three teams – Faroe Islands, Turkey and Montenegro – who all reached the group stage of qualifying for Canada 2015. With a maximum of two places available in the next round, this pool is sure to offer plenty of excitement.

Qualifying groups at a glance:
Group 1: Kazakhstan, Estonia, Georgia*, Latvia
Group 2: Greece, Albania*, Malta, Kosovo
Group 3: Israel, Moldova, Lithuania*, Andorra
Group 4: Turkey, Faroe Islands*, Montenegro, Luxembourg
*Hosts

Europe’s road to France:
Preliminary round: 6 - 11 April 2017
Qualifying group stage draw: 25 April 2017
Qualifying group stage: 11 September 2017 - 4 September 2018
Play-off draw: September 2018
Play-off semi-finals: 1 - 9 October 2018
Play-off final: 5 - 13 November 2018