Qualifying for the 2015 Women's World Cup is about to kick into high gear. The European group stage will help determine which eight European teams will make the trip to Canada for the World Cup.
The UEFA group stage consists of 42 teams and six groups. With just eight teams advancing, there won't be much margin for error.
Most of these teams should arrive in top form. After all, it was less than two months ago that the Women's European Championship concluded.
Germany ran to victory in that event and it should be no surprise that this soccer power will be one of the three teams I feature below. First here are the groups for the tournament as UEFA.com provides them:
Group 1: Germany*, Russia*, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia
Group 2: Italy*, Spain*, Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Group 3: Denmark*, Iceland*, Switzerland, Serbia, Israel, Malta**
Group 4: Sweden*, Scotland, Poland, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Faroe Islands**
Group 5: Norway*, Netherlands*, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Albania**
Group 6: England*, Ukraine, Belarus, Wales, Turkey, Montenegro**
Group 7: France*, Finland*, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan
*Competing at UEFA Women's EURO 2013 from 10-28 July
**Qualified from preliminary round
Germany: Group 1
Germany is always a factor in women's soccer, and the upcoming World Cup figures to be no different.
Germany showed their class this past July when by taking their eighth European women’s championships victory.
Nadine Angerer has been excellent in goal and saved two penalties in the championship match. Flashing the depth of this squad, it was reserve Anja Mittaga who scored the goal in the 1-0 championship win.
The other teams of Group 1 have to be more than a little dismayed to be paired with Germany.
Italy: Group 2
Italy hasn't advanced to the Women's World Cup since 1999. However, at No. 12, this team is the highest-ranked squad in the group. Spain is next at No. 17.
The Italians were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the European Championship. However, that loss did come to eventual champion Germany, and it was a well-played 1-0 match.
That was the fourth straight time the Italians were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the European Championship.
In all, Italy turned in a solid showing by finishing the tournament with a win, two losses and a draw.
Now they turn their attention to qualifying and are ready to make a big run.
Sweden: Group 4
Sweden has been in nice form. That much was obvious in the victory over the Americans in the above video, and the narrow loss to Germany in the finals of the European Championship.
It was a game Sweden dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard. The Swedes did a wonderful job of creating attacks in that match, but couldn't finish them against the stellar German defense. Sweden will not be facing a defense that stiff in this group.
Sweden enters this competition ranked fifth in the world, and they will dominate this group.