Women’s round-up: March 2014
© AFP

March witnessed plenty of top-level women's football, with the annual Cyprus and Algarve Cup tournaments as well as action in the UEFA Women’s Champions League dominating the agenda.

Sixteen teams travelled to Costa Rica for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup gunning for the world title and, as March draws to a close, Italy, Spain, Venezuela and Japan are still in the hunt for the trophy. Meanwhile, VfL Wolfsburg took a big step towards defending their Champions League crown thanks to a comprehensive defeat of Barcelona in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.

National teams
And then there were four
The world’s best U-17 players have been at the forefront of women’s football since the fourth FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup got underway at the start of March. This year’s tournament in Costa Rica has delivered some surprises, such as Germany exiting the competition after the group stage with just one point to their name. The 2012 finalists and 2008 champions Korea DPR also returned home after the first round of matches. In contrast, tournament newcomers Italy have caused a sensation, with Enrico Sbardella’s Azzurrine qualifying from Group A in second place with two wins before securing a semi-final showdown with Spain thanks to a quarter-final victory over Ghana. The other semi-final will see Venezuela meet Japan.

France win in Cyprus
France became Cyprus Cup champions for the second time, having first won the invitational tournament in 2012. Les Bleuettes sealed the title by defeating England 2-0, with both teams impressing under new coaches. Philippe Bergeroo’s side shone in the group stages, overcoming Australia 3-2 and beating the Netherlands 3-0 but managing only a 1-1 draw against Scotland. Meanwhile, England got off to an even better start, winning three times without conceding a single goal thanks to a 2-0 victory over Italy, 3-0 versus Finland and 2-0 against Canada.

Germany on top form, US disappoint
The German national team continued their impressive winning run at the Algarve Cup while the US endured a troubled tournament. Despite being undefeated in the competition for the past two years and thus hotly tipped to lift the trophy, Tom Sermanni’s side were unable to win any of their three group matches. Silvia Neid’s team were ultimately deserved Algarve Cup winners, thanks to four successive wins, 12 goals scored and just one goal conceded. Germany swept aside China PR, Iceland and Norway en route to meeting Japan in the final, where goals from Nadine Kessler, Anja Mittag and Dzsenifer Marozsan ensured a 3-0 triumph.

Argentina victorious at South American Games
Argentina emerged triumphant in the South American Games for the second time, after victory in 2006. The 2014 event was held in the Chilean capital Santiago between 7 and 18 March. Argentina initially lost 1-0 to the host nation in the group stages before soundly defeating Bolivia 4-0 and overcoming Brazil on penalties in the semi-final. The final saw Argentina meeting Chile once more, but this time the hosts were on the losing side as Estefania Banini and Yael Oviedo helped Argentina to a 2-1 win, while Fernanda Arraya scored for Chile.

U-20 Women’s World Cup groups drawn
While the U-17 Women’s World Cup moves into its decisive closing stages, the next women’s global youth competition is already looming on the horizon. The group draw for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014 was made in Montreal on March, with the tournament due to be held in Canada between 5 and 24 August. Maren Meinert’s Germany team find themselves in a tough Group B containing USA, Brazil and China PR that will ensure a repeat of the 2012 final between Germany and the US, who eventually prevailed in Japan. Meanwhile, hosts Canada were drawn in Group A with Ghana, Finland and former champions Korea DPR.

Club football
All-German semi-final beckons
Two different teams have scored eight goals each in UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg matches. Swedish club Tyreso gave Austria’s Neulengbach little chance during a resounding 8-1 win, in which five-time FIFA Women’s World Player Marta scored a hat-trick, while Turbine Potsdam enjoyed a similarly straightforward 8-0 victory over Italian champions ASD Torres Calcio. Elsewhere, defending champions Wolfsburg have a 3-0 lead to take into their return leg away to Barcelona in Spain on 30 March, with an all-German semi-final encounter in prospect. Birmingham City, meanwhile, made it to the last four for the first time in their history by beating English rivals Arsenal home (1-0) and away (2-0).

New seasons get underway
While the league championship is already done and dusted in Australia and many European leagues are entering their closing stages, the battle for domestic glory is only just getting underway in Scotland, Finland and on the Faroe Islands. The Scottish Women’s Premier League kicked off on 16 March, and there will be plenty of derbies to stir local interest with Celtic, Glasgow City, Rangers and Queens Park all representing Glasgow in the league. Meanwhile, Finland’s top-flight teams played their first matches on 22 March, with the Faroes following suit a day later.

Development
The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica has provided a perfect opportunity to inspire girls’ excitement and enthusiasm for football. On 8 March, exactly one week before the World Cup began, almost 500 girls from across Costa Rica poured into the Estadio Nacional to take part in the Live Your Goals festival.

The campaign is omnipresent during the tournament, with the best player from each match named as the 'Live Your Goals Player of the Match' and honoured with an award on the pitch after the game. The quarter-final recipients of this accolade were Venezuela’s Gabriela Garcia, Italian Nicole Peresotti, Japan captain Hina Sugita and Spain's Patri Guijarro. 

The stat
34,453 – More than 34,000 spectators packed into San Jose’s Estadio Nacional for the opening ceremony of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2014 in Costa Rica, setting a new tournament record.

The quote
“Well, I’m a little bit older… You pick up certain things over time, such as the experience of playing in European competitions. When I join up with the Brazil squad now I find it easier when it comes to helping out my colleagues, some of whom are going through situations I had to come through when I was starting out. It’s good to get involved and do my bit to get our football flowing naturally.”
Five-time FIFA Women’s World Player Marta on how she has changed since she first won the award in 2006