New-look Stars and Stripes shine in Algarve
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The 20th edition of the Algarve Cup featured a host of competitive matches amongst the 12 participants only to end in familiar fashion as the top two teams in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking – USA and Germany – faced off in the final. In the end it was USA that triumphed in the Portuguese sunshine with a pair of first-half Alex Morgan goals enough to end Germany’s mammoth 22-match unbeaten run.

It was maiden international silverware in a new era for USA after Tom Sermanni took the coaching reins from Pia Sundhage in January. The world No1 has lost little of their power and goalscoring form under Sermanni, despite the absence of several big names.

In fact the depth of the Stars and Stripes seems to have only been enhanced as evidenced as Christen Press, Nicole Barnhart and Tobin Heath deputised in the final for superstar trio Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Carly Lloyd. Germany too fielded a youthful looking side for the final with Saskia Bartusiak and Kim Kulig laid low by illness and injury, while veterans Nadine Angerer and Melanie Behringer remained on the bench.

Tone set early
The indications that this would be a tournament of upsets came with the very opening contest of the 24-match, eight-day event. World champions Japan fielded a vastly different side from that which were crowned FIFA Women’s World Cup™ queens 20 months ago in Germany. Coach Norio Sasaki stated before the tournament that this would be the ‘base’ for building towards Canada 2015. Norway too, under iconic coach Even Pellerud, had their share of youth on display and the goals in the 2-0 win over the Nadeshiko were scored by teenage starlets Caroline Hansen and Ada Hegerberg. Japan went onto lose 2-1 to Germany and defeat Denmark 2-0, leaving the Nadeshiko in third behind Norway.

Group B proved to be far less competitive with China PR and Iceland both crashing to heavy defeats as USA and Sweden dominated proceedings. USA’s 5-0 win over China provided another sign of the changing face of the Stars and Stripes as central defender Becky Sauerbrunn took the armband and captained the side for the first time. Sweden’s 6-1 win over Iceland on the same day proved to be the highest scoreline of the tournament, providing a major boost to the UEFA Women’s Euro hosts.

The final group, a seeded pool featuring teams outside the world top ten, was won by the ever-improving Mexico. Leonardo Cuellar’s charges defeated Hungary and Portugal to top the group. The hosts did however enjoy success with a 2-0 win over Wales. An otherwise disappointing event for Wales was highlighted by a 1-0 win over Mexico, with inspirational skipper Jessica Fishlock scoring the only goal.

Jockeying for positions
As always the tournament concluded with the final day placement matches, beginning with Portugal delighting the home support with a penalty shoot-out win over Wales. Iceland then claimed partial redemption with an encouraging 4-1 victory over Hungary, while Denmark shored up seventh with a solid 3-0 win over Mexico. Japan’s experimental visit to Portugal ended on a high with a win over China, thanks to Yuki Ogimi’s lone second-half effort.

Norway provided one of the tournament’s key storylines with their third-placed finish suggesting the 1995 world champions may have turned the corner following recent disappointment. A group-stage exit at Germany 2011 may now seem like a distant memory after the Gresshoppene edged a vastly experienced Sweden on penalties to claim third. Hegerberg, one of several graduates of Norway’s 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World quarter-final side, netted the equaliser with the final kick of the match allowing Leni Larsen Kaurin to successfully slot home the winning spot-kick.

The final match saw USA claim their ninth title on the Algarve thanks to the brace from FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year nominee Morgan. Germany, however, will not have to wait long for revenge with the two big guns of the women’s game to meet in a friendly early next month in Offenbach. Despite missing the final the ever-improving Megan Rapinoe was named player of the tournament with her incisive left-sided running a highlight.