UTRECHT, Netherlands: Germany are braced for a close fight to defend their title at the expanded women’s Euro 2017 championships starting this weekend, captain Dzsenifer Marozsan predicted.

The reigning European and Olympic champions face 15 teams out to dethrone them after UEFA’s decision to raise the number of teams from 12 to 16 in the Netherlands.

“Women’s soccer is (getting) closer, there’s more teams coming up, so it will be really hard,” Marozsan told reporters on Friday.

But the tattooed playmaker, who won the Champions League with Lyon this year, also said Germany had every reason to be confident.

“On the pitch you can see the team is playing really, really good football,” she said.

“I personally am happy and I’m looking forward to the tournament getting under way soon.”

Held at seven venues across the Netherlands, the tournament kicks off on Sunday when the hosts take on 2013 runners-up Norway in Utrecht in the opening game of Group A, also comprising Belgium and Denmark.

The final is in Enschede on August 6.

Boasting eight European titles overall, Germany will start their defence against Sweden on Monday in a repeat of last year’s Olympic final in Rio which Germany won 2-1.

“It was unbelievable, but now it’s a new tournament and I think it will be a really hard game... We start from 0-0,” said Marozsan, who scored Germany’s first goal in the Olympic final with a lovely curling shot.

“We should be really focused and we should play the first game and then think about the second game.”

Italy and Russia are the other teams in Group B.

Leading bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill make Germany favourites for the 12th edition of the tournament, ahead of France, England, the hosts and Sweden.

France, with more than a dozen players from Champions League winners Lyon and runners-up PSG, will take on Iceland and newcomers Austria and Switzerland in Group C.

Group D openers will pit England against Scotland and Spain against Portugal in two classic neighbourly clashes.

England’s tie with Scotland on July 19 has come under the scrutiny of terrorism experts after a website monitoring Jihadist activities said the so-called Islamic State had called for an attack on the Utrecht stadium on that day.

Dutch counter-terrorism officials said on Thursday they had not found a concrete threat but promised to boost security.

UEFA is using the tournament as an opportunity to test new rules – a fourth substitution in extra time and allowing referees to give yellow and red cards to non-playing technical staff. — AFP

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