Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Preview - UEFA Women's European Football Championships 2017

The finest women's footballers in Europe go head-to-head for continental glory this month at the Women's Euro's 2017. It is the 12th women’s Euro tournament and is hosted by the Netherlands. With more teams and more prize money than ever, Euro 2017 will be the largest Women's European Championship yet.

With the 'Battle of Britain' taking place tonight, as England face Scotland in Group D's opening fixture of the Women's 2017 European Championships, I feel now is a perfect time to preview the tournament, that kicked off a couple of days ago. England and Scotland are in the same group, alongside Spain and Portugal.

The competition comes around once every four years, and Germany are the holders following their 2013 triumph in Sweden. A total of 47 UEFA nations took part in the qualifications for the tournament, and this will be the first time the finals involve 16 teams rather than 12, with the top two teams from each group of four progressing to the quarter-finals.

The group stage concludes on 27th July, before the quarter-finals on 29th-30th July, the semi-finals on 3rd August and the final on 6th August.

A total of 31 matches will be played at seven different venues in the Netherlands, which is hosting the competition for the first time.

Deventer, Doetinchem, Rotterdam and Tilburg will all stage group matches, plus a quarter-final each.

Breda and Utrecht will also host four group games, with Breda and Enschede the venues for the semi-finals, and FC Twente's 30,000-capacity stadium in Enschede the venue for the final.

are looking to win this competition for the seventh time in a row - stretching back to 1995, and also arrive as the Olympic champions, but they will face stiff competition from France, who will call upon a number of players from a dominant Lyon team, who won their second consecutive Women's Champions League title in Cardiff in June.

Also tipped for a strong tournament are England, who want to improve on their impressive third place at the 2015 World Cup.

Since 2015, the team have been building on their success and on 1st July they beat Denmark 2-0, with both goals scored by the captain for the game, Ellen White. She is known for scoring one of the best goals in the history of the FIFA World Cup in 2011, and is definitely another player to keep an eye on in this tournament.

The Lionesses were unbeaten during qualifying for the Euros, winning seven of their eight matches, and conceded only one goal in the process.

England manager Mark Sampson announced his squad three months before the tournament – and there has been a bit of a shake up with him selecting a mixture of experience and young, up-and-coming players.
There are some familiar stars from the 2015 world cup, including Fara Williams, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Laura Bassett and Fran Kirby – but also some new names, Demi Stokes (defender), Isobel Christiansen (midfielder), Millie Bright (midfielder) and Nikita Parris (striker) who all make their tournament debuts for England.

Spain also have a talented squad, and four years ago they stunned England with a 3-2 win in the group stages of the Euros.

Norway, runners-up in 2013, have reached two of the past three finals and and are two-time winners (1987 and 1993)

The Norwegian side includes 2017 BBC Women's Footballer of the Year Ada Hegerberg who helped club side Lyon win another treble this term.

Hosts the Netherlands, meanwhile, have six players from English Women's Super League clubs.

Teams making their debuts in the finals this year include Belgium, Austria, Portugal and Switzerland.

Scotland women have qualified for their first major championship at the 14th attempt.
Led by coach Anna Signeul, who will leave her role following the Euros after 12 years in charge, the Scots qualified as runners-up to Iceland, but injuries have robbed them of some of their key players, including Arsenal playmaker Kim Little and Manchester City centre-back Jen Beattie.

The star of European women's football going into this tournament is Norway striker Ada Hegerberg (right). UEFA's player of the year has scored a phenomenal 112 goals in 97 games over the past three seasons for Lyon, firing them to back-to-back Champions League titles - and she is still only 22.

Tournament favourites France and Germany, meanwhile, will be led by Amandine Henry and Dzsenifer Marozsan respectively. They have a bit of a rivalry going: Henry has pipped Marozsan to second place in the European Player of the Year voting two years in a row, while Lyon signed Marozsan to bolster their midfield after Henry left for the Portland Thorns. After less than a year with Portland, she returned to France to join Lyon's biggest rivals Paris Saint-Germain.

Other players to watch!

Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway) - The Wolfsburg striker missed the 2015 World Cup due to injury, but her ability is without question. Now, she has a big stage to show it off again. Often played on the right of a front three for both club and country, the 22-year-old’s quality on the ball and ability to run at defenders is almost unrivaled.

Pernille Harder (Denmark) - Wolfsburg forward Pernille Harder is the national team captain and the player that makes Denmark tick. She's the focal point, the leader and the player that's key to helping her country progressing out of the most difficult group of the first round. Harder’s goal-scoring record in Sweden for her previous club, Linkopings, was remarkable. It led her side to a league title over a Marta-inspired Rosengard in 2016, which earned Harder the league’s MVP award and a move to her current club in Germany.

Lieke Martens (Netherlands) - Vivianne Miedema is the face of the Dutch team, a deserved recognition. But playing just to the left of her in a front three - or wide in a midfield four is her team-mate, Lieke Martens. This summer, she completed a move to ambitious Women’s Champions League semi-finalists Barcelona. She has an ability to run at players with pace, Playing alongside the likes of Marta at Rosengard for the past two years has seen the 24-year-old Dutch attacker raise her game to another level.

Jordan Nobbs (England) - The Arsenal girl (below) has developed into one of England’s most dynamic midfielders and is now vice-captain in Mark Sampson’s side, despite still only being 24. Her energy and ability to play almost anywhere in midfield has ensured she is one of the first names on the England team sheet.

Uefa is using the competition to continues trialling rule-changes. Teams will be allowed to make a fourth substitution during extra time of matches. European football's governing body has already trialled the change at the men's European Under-21 Championship and both the men's and women's under-19 tournaments.

Additionally, referees will have the power to show yellow and red cards to non-playing staff in the technical area

Media coverage of the sport in the UK is improving with Channel 4 announcing that it will be showing all of the games featuring England and Scotland. Other games will be shown on British Eurosport 2.

England's first game versus Scotland, takes place tonight (July 19) in Utrecht at 19.45 UK time, live on Channel 4.

A full tournament fixture list is available on the official UEFA website

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Babe of the Month - Russian Beauty Elena Vesnina

Elena Sergeyevna Vesnina was born on 1st August 1986 in Lviv, Ukraine and represents Russia as a professional tennis player.

When Lena was 6 years old, her mother Irina took her daughter to the Sochi tennis school under the guidance of the late Yury Yudkin, who was also Maria Sharapova's first tennis mentor in the early 1990's.

In October 2002, aged 16 years and two months, she gained direct entry into the qualifying draw for her first $10,000 tournament at Giza, Egypt, and succeeded in qualifying for the main draw.

Her career-high rankings are World No. 13 in singles (March 2017) and World No. 3 in doubles (June 2017).

Vesnina is a three-time Grand Slam champion in doubles competition, having won the 2013 French Open and the 2014 US Open tournaments with Ekaterina Makarova, and the 2016 Australian Open mixed doubles title with Bruno Soares.

Representing Russia in the 2007 Fed Cup final against Italy, Elena defeated Mara Santangelo in straight sets. In the 2008 Fed Cup final Ekaterina Makarova made her debut in the doubles match with Vesina winning their doubles match as Russia confidently defeated Spain 4–0.

Vesnina participated in the 2009 ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand in January. It was here that she advanced to her first final on the WTA Tour, upsetting the tournament's sixth-seed Nicole Vaidišová in the second round and the second-seed Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals along the way. She then prevailed in a marathon semi-final against British No.1 Anne Keothavong with a score of to set up a meeting with fellow Russian and tournament first-seed Elena Dementieva in the Final.
She started strongly in the match with a 3–1 lead but eventually lost to Dementieva.

In 2009 Elena reached her first Grand Slam final in the doubles at the French Open partnering Victoria Azarenka. The pair were seeded 12th but lost in the final to the 3rd seeds and defending champions Virginia Ruano Pascual and Anabel Medina Garrigues.

In 2010 At the Wimbledon Championships Vesnina made it to her second Grand Slam final in doubles while partnering Vera Zvonareva. The pair scored some impressive wins over the top seeded Williams Sisters in the Quarter finals (which ended the Americans 27 match winning streak in Grand Slam doubles matches) and over 4th seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals. In the final they fell to fellow unseeded pairing Yaroslava Shvedova and Vania King.

In doubles in 2011, Vesnina along with Sania Mirza won the finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California by defeating Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy. Then the pair won their second doubles title of the year at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina by defeating Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy again.

Together with Leander Paes, she reached the 2012 Australian Open and the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles finals.

In 2013 Vesnina won her second WTA tour title at the Aegon International in Eastbourne. En route to the final, she defeated Ana Ivanovic in the first round and Heather Watson in the second. She then went on to beat second seed Li Na in the quarter-finals and Yanina Wickmayer in the semi-finals. In the final, she easily dispatched American Jamie Hampton to win her first grass tour event (above).

Vesnina and Makarova won their second major doubles title at the 2014 US Open.

In 2015 the pair reached the Wimbledon Doubles final, but lost to longtime-rivals Hingis/Mirza.

At Wimbledon last year, Elena competed in her first Grand Slam Singles semi-final with straight set victories over Tamira Paszek, Andrea Petkovic, and Julia Boserup in the first three rounds before outlasting good friend and doubles partner Makarova in three sets to advance to her first slam quarter-final. She then easily defeated Slovak Dominika Cibulkova to continue her resurgence into the semi-finals where she was was defeated by World No.1 and eventual champion Serena Williams.

At the start of 2016 at the Australian Open, Elena Vesnina and partner Bruno Soares reached the Mixed Doubles final where they defeated Coco Vandeweghe and Horia Tecău, which marked her first mixed doubles Grand Slam title.

In July 2016 Elena and Ekaterina won their first tournament title at the Rogers Cup in Montréal, Canada, and then they went on to win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio for Russia a few weeks later - this was the very first time that any Russian duo had won an Olympic doubles event.

2017 began well for Vesnina. At Indian Wells in March and seeded 14th, Vesnina defeated Shelby Rogers and Timea Babos to set-up a fourth round meeting with Angelique Kerber, who was guaranteed to return to world no.1 at the end of the tournament. Vesnina beat the US Open champion, before defeating Australian Open runner-up Venus Williams and the in-form Kristina Mladenovic to reach her first Premier Mandatory final. In an all-Russian final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vesnina came from a set down to win her 3rd WTA singles title, her first since 2013 and the biggest of her career so far, in just over three hours. With this victory, Vesnina climbed to a career high ranking of 13.

Overall Elena's career stats show: 3 WTA (Women's Tennis Association) Singles wins and a Wimbledon Singles Grand Slam semi-final, 15 WTA Doubles victories, 2 Grand Slam Double titles and an Olympic Doubles Gold Medal, along with a Grand Slam Mixed Doubles title.

To date Elena has won in career prize money alone, somewhere in the region of US$ 8.6 million.

Elena is seeded number 15 in the 2017 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championships, and number 2 in the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles with Ekaterina Makarova, which begin next week.

You can follow Elena on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram