The USA emphatically underlined their pre-eminent position in women's international football with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Denmark in this year's Algarve Cup Final. Goals either side of half-time from captain Kristine Lilly and Carli Lloyd put smiles on American faces as the team coached by Greg Ryan confirmed their status as hot favourites for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 some six months from now.
"We're very happy to win this tournament again and build
confidence for our young team," said the coach. "These
were also the first games (of 2007) for some of our top players, so
this was a good beginning for us. In terms of the game, I think we
dominated the play. I was very happy with our team's
Ryan also expressed delight at the harmonious blend of youth and experience in the current squad: "I think that's the key. We've got great leadership, composure and confidence that comes with (Kristine) Lilly, Abby (Wambach), Christie (Rampone) and Shannon (Boxx), and we have this energy on the field. I think you see there is so much energy in our game right now and a jump in our step. It's a lot of fun to coach, I can tell you that."
Carli Lloyd finished as the event's leading scorer with four goals and was also named Player of the Tournament. Her prolific haul came as something of a surprise, as she had scored just once in 24 previous internationals. "It's all very exciting. It's been a fantastic tournament for all of us," Lloyd remarked.
Beaten finalists Denmark will still have taken great heart from the Algarve Cup after a 4-0 victory over France and a 1-0 win against Norway. Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller certainly felt his efforts were bearing fruit and his team was moving in the right direction, despite the Danes' inability to beat the top two teams in the world ranking. "I'd prefer us to avoid these two (the USA and Germany) at the World Cup group stage," the coach confessed to FIFA.com.
Sweden defeated France 3-1 to claim third place for the second year in a row. "I'm genuinely very satisfied with the way we played today. Taking the tournament as a whole, I was pleased with all my players, the experienced and younger ones alike. We've conceded just four goals in total, which is pretty much OK, and three of those came in the match against the USA," coach Thomas Dennerby observed afterwards.
It was a very different story over in a disappointed and pensive Germany camp. The reigning world and European champions won the Algarve Cup last year but finished a lowly eighth this time.
The Germans beat a weakened Danish team 3-0, but lost 2-1 against Norway and 1-0 against France, before sinking to a 1-0 defeat to Italy, currently 13th in the world rankings. Coach Silvia Neid made no secret of her dismay: "It's not gone anything like the way we planned. Both our football and our physical game are nowhere near where we want them to be. We've resolved simply to put the Algarve Cup behind us. We've found out what's not going right, and that's the most positive thing we can take away with us."
Individual players provided a few rays of light in the gloom, particularly the likes of Babett Peter, Anja Mittag, Melanie Behringer and goalkeeper Ursula Holl. Youthful 18-year-old Peter turned in a series of composed displays at left-back, while Potsdam team-mate Mittag garnered plaudits for her workrate and strong running. Behringer provided creative ideas from the left of midfield, while Holl staked a persuasive claim for inclusion as third goalkeeper at the FIFA Women's World Cup.
China in turmoil
The mood in the Chinese camp was similarly downcast in the early build-up to the global showcase on home soil, following a demoralising 4-1 defeat to Iceland and a worrying 10th place finish overall. "Chinese women's football is on its knees. What else can I say?" interim coach Wang Haiming told the Xinhua news agency. "My players have lost the desire to perform and win. We have to go home now and think long and hard about ourselves."
The Chinese were clearly knocked out of their stride by the turmoil surrounding the dismissal of coach Ma Liangxing and the absence of striker Ma Xiaoxu . Reacting to developments at the tournament, the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup hosts have stepped up their search for another new coach, although former Germany supremo Tina Theune-Meyer has already declined the challenging position. However, only the brave or foolhardy would write off the Chinese as contenders at the FIFA Women's World Cup, as the team's latent potential was perfectly visible in a 2-0 victory over England in the opening match of January's four-nation tournament.
14 March 2007
Portugal - Ireland 4-5 on penalties (Play-off for eleventh)
China - Iceland 1-4 (Play-off for ninth)
Germany - Italy 0-1 (Play-off for seventh)
Norway - Finland 2-0 (Play-off for fifth)
Sweden - France 3-1 (Play-off for third)
USA - Denmark 2-0 (Final)