Hosts England will kick-off the Women’s Euro 2022 against Austria at Old Trafford, as Thursday’s draw for the tournament paired defending champions the Netherlands with Olympic silver medallists Sweden.
Eight-time European champions Germany face the toughest group on paper alongside the rapidly improving Spain, Pernille Harder’s Denmark and former semi-finalists Finland.
France’s bid to win the competition for the first time will see them take on Italy, Belgium and Iceland in Group D.
The Netherlands’ clash with Sweden in Sheffield on July 9 will be a repeat of the World Cup semi-final won by the Dutch two years ago.
“I think the first game against Sweden is a highlight for the whole tournament,” said Dutch coach Mark Parsons. “For me, to be able to see a team of this quality this early is also a positive.”
Both nations will be confident of progressing from a group also containing Switzerland and Russia.
England are hoping home advantage will see them reach a major women’s final for the first time after falling at the semi-final stage at the last two World Cups and at Euro 2017.
“We’ve reached semi-finals of Euros, of World Cups. This team now has that experience of getting a little bit further – we just need that little push to get to the end,” said England defender Lucy Bronze.
“The pressure is there, being the home nation, but it’s only what you perceive it to be. We can look at it like ‘there are going to be so many more eyes on us’ but equally, there are so many more eyes supporting us as well.”
The Lionesses coach Sarina Wiegman, who led the Dutch to victory on home soil four years ago, will be pleased to have avoided a trickier draw.
Norway and Northern Ireland, on their tournament debut, make up the section.
“It was like Christmas waking up this morning. It’s fantastic for the country,” said Northern Ireland and Liverpool midfielder Rachel Furness
England, Austria and Northern Ireland are all set to face each other before the tournament begins in World Cup qualifying.
Wiegman’s women thrashed Northern Ireland 4-0 at Wembley last weekend, while Austria needed a stoppage-time equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw in Belfast on Tuesday.
Germany’s clash with a Spanish side filled with European champions at club level with Barcelona is the other standout clash of the group stage on July 12 at the Brentford Community Stadium in London.
Denmark will pose a threat to two of the tournament favourites with world’s most expensive player, Chelsea striker Harder, leading the line.
France have never made it beyond the quarter-finals of a women’s European Championship, but coach Corinne Diacre is aiming for the final.
“Our objective is clearly with this team and this group to go at least to the final,” she told AFP. “We will give ourselves every chance to get there.”
More than 160,000 tickets have already been sold for what UEFA hopes will be the highest-attended female sports event in European history.
Between the opening match at the Theatre of Dreams on July 6 and a Wembley final on July 31, games will be held in Brighton, Leigh, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Rotherham, Sheffield and Southampton.