USA lay down a marker
© AFP

Reigning Olympic champions USA have given further proof, if any were needed, that they will be a force to be reckoned with at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ in Germany. The Stars and Stripes were simply unstoppable at the prestigious Algarve Cup in Portugal, defeating world and European champions Germany 3-2 in the final. The popularity of women's football is increasing all the time, and Pia Sundhage's team are perfectly position to ride on the crest of that wave.

This is the seventh time that the number one team in the FIFA Women's World Ranking has lifted the trophy at the annual event on the Iberian peninsula. Indeed the competition attracts so many of the top countries that it has come to be known as the Mundialito, or mini-World Cup. USA played some wonderfully attractive football throughout the tournament, gaining maximum points along the way and taking over the crown from Sweden, who had to be content with third place this time around.

Deadly US strike pair
"Even before we got to the final we played three excellent matches, and then facing Germany to see who wins the cup – what more could you ask for?" said forward Lauren Cheney. "Abby [Wambach] and I combined well together and it was a good tournament all round." The US striker notched no fewer than four goals during the competition and formed a deadly strike pairing with Wambach, who herself managed three as Sundhage's squad plundered opposition defences in Portugal.

Wins over Iceland (2-0), Norway (2-1) and Sweden (2-0) in the group stage were an early indication of the USA's intent in a tournament featuring five of the top ten teams in the world. And with an 18th win over Germany in 27 matches, confidence will be high in the USA camp as they look to win their first FIFA Women's World Cup since 1999.

Even before we got to the final we played three excellent matches, and then facing Germany to see who wins the cup – what more could you ask for?
USA forward Lauren Cheney

Though Germany's women may have come off second best against USA once again, after losing at home to them 1-0 in a friendly last autumn, Silvia Neid was far from disappointed. "The Algarve Cup fulfilled its purpose for us," said the German coach, referring to her use of the tournament to experiment with new players. Three wins, 16 goals scored and none conceded against Denmark, Finland and China PR in the group stage would seem to suggest that those experiments paid off handsomely.

Germany will be hoping to use home advantage at next year's tournament in an attempt win their third FIFA World Cup in a row, and their performances in Portugal showed they are well on the way to blending some highly driven young players with the experienced old heads. Inka Grings was voted the tournament's best player and was also top scorer with a seven-goal haul, giving her bags of confidence for the future as she plies her trade alongside legendary attacker Birgit Prinz.

Scandinavians fall short of expectations
While the big two were laying down a marker for the rest of women's football, their Scandinavian rivals came up short in the Algarve. The latter now face a long, hard struggle if they are to be serious candidates for the title in summer 2011, particularly with a Marta-led Brazil to contend with as well as Germany and USA.

With a 2-0 win in the third place match over China PR, Sweden can be reasonably satisfied with their tournament. Meanwhile, Denmark and 1995 world champions Norway, who finished fifth and sixth respectively, will both be keen to improve, even if the former edged out the latter 2-1 in their final game. Romania, Finland, Iceland, Portugal, Austria and the Faroe Islands rounded out the other placings.