By Tim Grainey
This week the Women’s International Roundup analyzes the results of two Spring European tournaments: the Algarve Cup involving the United States and the Cyprus Cup that included Canada.
The U.S. Women’s National Team took third place at this year’s Algarve Cup in Portugal, recording three wins against European teams. However, a 1-0 overtime loss against Japan cost them the chance to capture their third straight tournament title. The U.S. women kicked off the 12-team event on February 29 with an emphatic 5-0 win over Denmark. Forward Alex Morgan scored twice and added one assist, while Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux had single goals. Morgan scored first in the 21st minute on a feed from winger Heather O’Reilly. Wambach scored just before the break and the other three goals came in the last 14 minutes of the game. Japan defeated Norway 2-1 in the other Group B contest. In Group A, Germany defeated Iceland 1-0 while Sweden beat China by the same score. In Group C, Hungary defeated Ireland 1-0 and Wales beat host Portugal on a single tally.
On March 2, the U.S. had a more difficult second match, defeating Norway 2-1 on goals by Abby Wambach (51st minute) and Sydney Leroux (81st). Leroux’s goal was her second in two Algarve Cup games and her seventh career international goal in just seven games, after she scored five against Guatemala at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in January. Elise Thorsnes reduced the deficit for Norway late in injury time. The Americans outshot the Norwegians 17-5 for the game, with a 7-4 advantage for shots on goal. Japan defeated Denmark 2-0 in the other Group B match. In Group A, Germany bested China 1-0 and Sweden repelled Iceland 2-1. In group C, Portugal overwhelmed Hungary 4-0 while Wales and Ireland played out a scoreless tie.
On March 5, the U.S. dropped their third match in Group B by a 1-0 score to Japan, who also defeated the Americans in last summer’s World Cup Final match on penalty kicks. The defensive struggle was decided by substitute Megumi Takase’s header from former WPS star’s Aya Miyama’s corner kick in the 84th minute. With the loss, the U.S. failed to advance to the Algarve Cup Final for the first time in 10 years. A tie would have sent the Americans to the tournament deciding game rather than Japan on goal difference.
U.S. Head Coach Pia Sundhage assessed the match afterwards: “I think in the first half, we looked very nervous and the decision-making was off. Too many times we gave away the ball in situations when we were not even under pressure or in tight spaces. We couldn’t keep the ball enough to be dangerous. When you give away the ball against Japan, they keep it. It’s so much defending. Mentally and physically, that’s tough, but I am happy with the changes we made at halftime and even parts of the first half where we tried to play more direct. I think we looked more dangerous and came up with a couple of chances, but overall you could tell there is a lot of things to work on and especially looking at Japan, their technique and how they keep the ball. They should be role models for the world, the way they play.” Specifically about her opponents, Sundhage was very complimentary: “I think they played like the best team in the world. They kept possession and controlled the attack. Even though we made some changes at halftime, and looked more dangerous in the second half, still they got a goal off a corner. The way they play both defensively and in the attack is very good.” Forward Abby Wambach agreed with her coach’s opinion: “The Japanese team is fantastic. They have so many great players. They keep such good possession that it’s really difficult to get a rhythm because you don’t have as much possession as you normally do. It’s something to think about and to move forward with and train against, so when we go to Japan (in April) and maybe see them in the Olympics, we can fare better and play better.”
In Group A, Germany defeated Sweden 4-0 to win their group. Their Algarve Cup Final game against Japan would be a rematch of Japan’s shock quarterfinal win in last summer’s World Cup in Germany. Also in Group A, Iceland defeated China 1-0. In group C, Wales defeated Hungary 2-1 and Portugal beat the Republic of Ireland by the same score.
On March 7, Germany defeated Japan 4-3 in an exciting match in which both teams combined for three goals within the last two minutes of play and stoppage time. The U.S. blasted Sweden in the 3rd/4th place match. Alex Morgan scored her first career national team hat trick and Abby Wambach scored her 134th international goal and is now only 24 goals behind FIFA’s all time international goalscoring leader, former teammate Mia Hamm, who retired in 2004 with 158 tallies. The U.S. had three goals within the first 36 minutes, two from Morgan and one from Wambach. The U.S. performance and result was much different from its last two games against Sweden, tying 1-1 last November in Glendale, Arizona and losing 2-1 in group play at the 2011 World Cup.
In other placement games, Denmark defeated Iceland 3-1 to take 5th, Norway finished 7th after a 3-0 win over Wales, China beat Portugal 1-0 in the ninth place match and the Republic of Ireland beat Hungary 2-1 for 11th place.
Another 12-team international tournament was going on in Southern Europe at the same time as the Algarve Cup—the Cyprus Cup, in which Canada was trying to win its third title in a row. England, Finland, France and Switzerland competed in Group A while Canada, Italy, Netherlands and Scotland comprised Group B. Korea Republic, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and South Africa made up Group C.
In Canada’s first game on February 28 against Scotland, midfielder Sophie Schmidt scored two goals and Kelly Parker, Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi each scored once. Jane Ross scored for Scotland. In the other match in the group, the Netherlands defeated Italy 2-1. On March 1, Canada defeated Italy 2-1 on a dramatic late winner from substitute midfielder/defender Robyn Gayle, in a game that looked to be ending in a tie. Christine Sinclair scored her 131st career goal in the 43rd minute while Sandy Iannelia scored for Italy just after the start of the second half. Scotland upset the Netherlands 2-1 in the other game. On March 4, Canada defeated the Netherlands 1-0 to qualify for its fifth-straight Cyprus Cup final. Defender Emily Zurrer scored in the 84th minute from Sophie Schmidt’s free kick. Zurrer was a late cut from the team for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament earlier this year. In the other group game, Italy outlasted Scotland 2-1.
Canada played France in the final on March 6. The day before the final, Canadian head coach John Herdman said that this tournament has been important for his team, which had primarily played CONCACAF teams (with the exception of one match versus Sweden) since he took over last fall. His coaching staff worked with the players to understand the two primary systems they would face in Cyprus: the 4-4-2 that Scotland (with Swedish) coaches and Italy primarily played and the 4-2-1-3 approach that the Netherlands and France employed. Herdman said that the goal was to have his players: “Understand the nuances of our playing model against those playing models and they start developing a great appreciate of the tactical blueprints and how they evolve during the game. There’s a lot of work going behind the scenes, doing a lot of analysis and almost taking a coaching approach with understanding the strategy that we use on the day. It’s been invaluable; certain teams like Italy play in a way that made it very difficult for us. The Dutch possession game was fantastic at times; [we are] learning how to press a team that is really comfortable with the ball like Japan or France.”
Canada is a much different team from the one that crashed out of last summer’s World Cup after losing a crucial group game to France 4-0. Herdman replaced Carolina Morace a few months later and has led the team to success at the Pan American Games last fall, qualifying for this summer’s Olympic Games and defeated three European teams in this tournament. This time, France defeated Canada 2-0 in a much closer game. Marie-Laure Delie scored in the 31st minute after a Canadian giveaway in their half and then midfielder Louisa Necib scored from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute after midfielder Sonia Bompastor was taken down in the box. The trip overall was a success for a Canadian side learning to implement Herdman’s tactics against regional powers—this time European—since they will likely meet a European side either in their Olympic Games first round group or in the quarterfinals or semifinals, if they advance, which is their ambition.
In the other placement matches of the Cyprus Cup, Italy beat England 3-1 to take third while South Korea captured 5th after defeating Finland 6-5 on penalties following a 1-1 tie. The Netherlands took home 7th place after a 4-2 penalty kick victory following a 2-2 tie. Scotland beat South Africa 2-0 for 9th and Switzerland beat Northern Ireland 5-0 for 11th place. Switzerland was a major disappointment, dropping their first round games to England, Finland and France, while France overwhelmed England 3-0 in their last group game.
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