A host of international teams are set for a spell in the sun with this week’s annual hosting of the prestigious Algarve Cup, as well as the ever-growing Cyprus Cup. This year marks a different look for both competitions given there will, for various reasons, be several absentees.

An overlap with Asia’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament qualifiers, as well as a four-nation equivalent in Europe – which features Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – has ruled out numerous regulars who would otherwise enjoy the high-level competition and Mediterranean climate at this time of year. Meanwhile, ten-time Algarve champions USA will be welcoming some big-name teams Stateside for a four-nation tournament as England, France and Germany visit.

Nevertheless the Algarve and Cyprus-based tournaments offer tough matches in a competition format, bringing particular value for those nations with one eye on the fast-looming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Meanwhile, the absentees has provided an unexpected positive, with some new faces allowed the chance to compete and trial their abilities.

As always the Algarve Cup will also provide an opportunity for more than the players to test their skills. A selection of female match officials from all over the globe will feature, with the group identified as prospective candidate referees and assistant referees for this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.

Diverse octet on the Algarve
Whatever happens over the eight-day competition in the Algarve Cup, one thing is certain – there will be a new name on the trophy. Over the course of the 22 previous editions of the esteemed tournament there have been just five winners. However, none will be in Portugal this time around due to commitments elsewhere. This year the tournament, which commences on Wednesday (today), is an eight-team event, down from its usual 12.

In the hunt in 2016 are Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, New Zealand, hosts Portugal and Russia. For three teams – Brazil, Canada and New Zealand – planning for Rio is the longer term aim. Building team cohesion and confidence will, they hope, be a spin-off from success in the Algarve.

“Our focus now is on preparing for the Olympic Games,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “Both New Zealand and Brazil will be at the Olympics, so we’ll be taking this opportunity to scout those teams and to continue assessing the players available to us as we get closer to finalising the team that will represent Canada in Rio.”

Meanwhile, the five European teams who will be present are currently in the midst of their qualifying campaign for next year’s UEFA Women’s EURO. This week’s tournament is, perhaps, most significant for Belgium who are participating for the first time. The Belgian Red Flames are on an upward trajectory and seeking to echo some of the recent growth enjoyed by their male counterparts. In their sights is maiden EURO qualification, and the team are currently top of their qualifying group.

European focus in Cyprus
Mirroring the Algarve Cup, this year’s Cyprus Cup will has been reduced by four teams to an eight-team event. Unlike in Portugal, however, all the participants are European. Group A features Austria, Italy, Hungary and Republic of Ireland, while the other group includes Czech Republic, Finland, Poland and Wales.

Much like Belgium, Republic of Ireland will be hoping to use the tournament as a springboard for a first-ever qualification for the continental championship. “The Cyprus Cup is going to be very important in terms of getting ready for that,” said Republic of Ireland coach Sue Ronan in reference to the resumption of qualifiers next month. “We have a lot of work to do if we want to finish in the top two in our (EURO) group.”

Italy finished fourth last year in Cyprus and are the highest-ranked team participating, meaning expectations will be on Antonio Cabrini’s Azzurre. Equally, there will be a focus on goalscoring 22-year-old goalscoring sensation Valentina Giacinti who has been averaging more than a goal per game this season for Mozzanica in Italy’s domestic competition.