Goals aplenty as national teams grab spotlight
© AFP

Club football took a back seat over the weekend as a host of major international women’s football hit centre stage. The highlight was undoubtedly USA’s match-up with Japan in the inaugural Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup, in what was a repeat of the last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™. The weekend also saw a hefty schedule of matches in the race for UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 qualification. FIFA.com’s weekly review of club football will return next Tuesday following what promises to be a major weekend in the women’s game as the new seasons in Sweden and England get underway.

World Cup finale reprised 
As was the case in Frankfurt last July, USA and Japan played out a tight contest when the pair duelled in the first ever match of the Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup, with Brazil also featuring in the newly-launched women’s version of the successful and long-running men’s tournament. The match, which was the second meeting this year between these two burgeoning rivals, took place in Sendai - adding extra poignancy, with the area severely devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami. Yukari Kinga opened the scoring in the first half for the home side, with the world number one relying on an equaliser from Alex Morgan 17 minutes from time to earn a share of the spoils. Morgan’s goal was her sixth in eight matches, and ensured USA avoided a second straight defeat against Japan, a team to whom they had not lost until last month’s Algarve Cup.

The second match of the tournament was played today and saw USA cruise past Brazil 3-0 in a contest which bore little resemblance to last year’s epic Germany 2011 quarter-final, which was decided on penalties. Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx hit first-half goals in Chiba, while Amy Rodriguez struck with seven minutes remaining against a Brazil side who were with without superstar forward Marta.

Euro elite stay perfect
The charge for a berth at the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro in Sweden is at the halfway stage with the weekend fixtures proving positive for the continent’s traditional powers. Italy, France and Denmark are the only teams sitting at the top of their respective groups with perfect records, although Denmark didn’t take to the field on the weekend. France moved an impressive nine points clear of Republic of Ireland in Group 4, thanks to a 2-0 win against Scotland. However Les Bleues were made to work for it by the Scots in Le Havre, and triumphed only thanks to second-half goals from Wendie Renard and an Ifeoma Dieke own goal. Also with one foot in Sweden are Italy who are six points clear of Russia in Group 1, although the Azzurre have played a match extra. The prolific Patrizia Panico scored a double in Italy’s comfortable 4-0 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Return to form
Germany pushed three points clear in Group 2 with an emphatic 5-0 win over Spain in Mannheim. The Spaniards had become the first team in 12 years to take qualifying points off Germany with a 2-2 draw at home in November, but since then the two-time world champions have recaptured their old form, winning last month’s Algarve Cup. Celia Okoyino da Mbabi proved to be the goalscoring heroine hitting the back of the net four times to become the continent’s top-scorer with nine qualifying goals. Meanwhile, Norway, another traditional heavyweight of the women’s game, returned to winning ways after their recent lull. Hege Hansen struck a double in a 3-0 win against Bulgaria which lifted the struggling Norwegians to third, four points off Group 3 leaders Iceland.

Important victories
Finland have taken a slim lead in a fascinating Group 5 thanks to a last-gasp 1-0 win in Slovakia. Eva Kolenova headed into her own goal deep in added time to push the visitors clear of Slovakia and Belarus on goal difference. England bagged a morale-boosting 6-0 win in Croatia with Rachel Unitt scoring on her 100th appearance. The 2009 finalists now sit two points behind Group 6 leaders Netherlands, who they host in a potentially decisive match in June.

The seven group winners will qualify automatically for Sweden 2013 as will the best placed runner-up. The remaining group runners-up will battle for the remaining three berths to the 12-nation tournament.