The Algarve in Portugal is rather different from the rest of Europe in several ways. The January temperature often reaches more than 20 degrees, bathing the undulations of the picturesque landscape in sunlight and the pinkish tinge of almond blossom. The climate and setting remain thoroughly agreeable at the current time in March, as the leading women's international football teams step up their preparations for the forthcoming FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 . On the eve of the third-place play-off against France, the Sweden squad were greeted by glorious sunshine, blue skies and a pretty stiff Atlantic breeze when the players appeared for morning training at the Hotel Montechoro sports complex.
The clutch of onlookers who had picked their way through the unwieldy maze of paths to the facility found the team in relaxed and upbeat mood. Their number included Sweden U-21 supremo and former senior coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who dropped by in the course of a morning stroll.
Despite the previous day's 3-2 defeat to the USA , the players visibly enjoyed the workout on the meticulously manicured turf. Sweden Women's Player of the Year Lotta Schelin , carrying a minor knock from the previous day's clash, performed a solo session involving shooting practice from the edge of the penalty area and first-time shots within the six-yard box, while the remaining players shook any remaining tiredness from their legs in a gentle practice match. At the end of the workout, coach Thomas Dennerby and his players took questions from one or two reporters, before Dennerby and Schelin were last off the pitch and back into the hotel where the team had already sat down to lunch.
Shopping and shooting
The Norway squad took over the neighbouring training pitch in the afternoon to work on their finishing, but a handful of the Swedes seized the opportunity of an afternoon off to head for the shops. Schelin, Hanna Marklund, keeper Caroline Jönsson and the rest of the group reappeared at the team hotel in the early evening flaunting the evidence of success - a shopping bag or two. The entire Italian party spent an hour of the day ahead of a daunting seventh-place play-off against reigning world and European champions Germany on a stroll in the streets and alleyways of central Albufeira, paying special attention to a local sports shop.
Over at the Danish team hotel, coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller was to be found patiently explaining for the umpteenth time to a gaggle of Chinese TV crews how his side had pulled off a surprise passage into the Final. The media marathon finally came to an end at around 9 pm, Heiner-Moller issuing a brief greeting to Michael Kald as the Finland coach made his way across the lobby, before the Denmark chief turned his undivided attention to the following day's Final against the Americans, the team everyone wants to avoid for as long as possible at China 2007.
An hour or so away by car, not far from the Spanish border in Vila Real de San Antonio, Germany were recovering from the shock of two defeats in a row with a win against those very same Danes. Another familiar face was spotted here at the stadium adjacent to the lighthouse, as retired senior coach Tina Theune-Meyer, currently in Portugal on private business, made a detour to cast an eye over her former charges.
Theune-Meyer had ample opportunity to work on her hobby as an amateur photographer during the match, before taking to the pitch and personally greeting Renate Lingor and Co, veterans of her time at the helm. Then it was across to a comfortably familiar place on the bench for a few minutes in conversation with her successor and former assistant Silvia Neid - just one of many colourful episodes typical of the long-running tournament.