The format of European qualification for the Women’s World Cup and Women’s Euros will change from 2023, Uefa’s head of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, has confirmed, after 29 games with margins of seven goals or more between September and November drew heavy criticism.
“We acknowledge that we absolutely don’t want to see that,” Kessler said of scorelines such as England’s 20-0 defeat of Latvia and Belgium’s 19-0 win over Armenia, which prompted widespread calls for change. “It’s not good for the development of women’s football, not for smaller or big associations, and it will change as of 2023.”
Kessler said a Nation’s League-style competition was being explored as a part of discussions. “We’re looking at all of the formats that we’ve used before,” she said. “We’re looking at what was good and what wasn’t good to then draw up what hopefully will be the best format to improve the competitiveness … We are considering lots of different options, like a Nations League but not only a Nations League, to see how we can close this gap.”
Kessler warned that changes to qualification alone would not be enough. Referencing the impact of the pandemic she said: “There are huge inactivity levels across the world, in leagues, in national team football, and if you don’t play regularly, at an elite level, for a national team, if your league is not up and running and has to be cancelled, then these are all factors as to why, right now, we see results like we’ve never seen before.
“The format will help address it for sure but what creates success and what creates competitiveness? It’s regular investments, the right structures on the ground, domestic leagues that are up and running regularly, with good standards, and regular participation in our qualifiers for the World Cup or Euros.
“It’s also the overall pool of players that will allow you to professionalise your structures. It’s very important that we start thinking of women’s football more with a long-term, strategic view.”
A big stumbling block to Uefa progressing discussions and developing that long-term plan is the lack of a match calendar beyond the 2023 World Cup. Kessler heavily criticised Fifa’s plans for a biennial World Cup and blamed it for the delay.
“You asked me about our qualifying formats,” said the 2013 Euro winner with Germany. “I can’t even tell you because I don’t know what the international match calendar will be like after summer 2023. We are one and a half years away from a new cycle. That calendar is there to regulate not just international football but also domestic football, it regulates the load for international players, and we don’t know what it is.
“I don’t even know how many match days there will be for qualification campaigns, because we are stuck discussing a biennial World Cup that I don’t see as being able to address any developmental issues or competitive issues we have because it’s a tournament for the elitist.”