In our latest monthly look at the major events in women’s football, FIFA.com reflects on the start of the WPS season, developments on the road to Germany 2011 and a legend's return to the international arena.
Gold Pride, Sky Blue set WPS pace
All eyes have been on the early pace-setters since the second WPS season kicked off on 10 April, with reigning champions Sky Blue FC and Marta’s Gold Pride locked together at the top of the standings on six points apiece. Gold Pride, who also boast the likes of Christine Sinclair, Solveig Gulbrandsen and Camille Abily, lead the table by a single goal and have the psychological advantage of having beaten Sky Blue 3-1 in a match that witnessed Marta’s first goal of the season and a brace from Sinclair. The California outfit are far from invincible, however, as an opening day 2-0 defeat to Saint Louis Athletica proved. England’s Eniola Aluko scored both goals in that match, and the Nigeria-born striker has been making the early running in the top scorer stakes along with the likes of Sinclair, Ramona Bachmann and international colleague Kelly Smith.
Gunners' double vision
While the title challenge from Arsenal’s men may have collapsed over the past month, the Gunners women look to be closing in on a fifth successive league and cup double. A 2-1 win at Doncaster Belles has left Laura Harvey’s side five points clear of Chelsea with three games in hand, while third-placed Everton – who have played the same number of fixtures as the leaders – lie three points further back. The Toffees' best hope of silverware now lies in the FA Women’s Cup final, although it is opponents and old foes Arsenal – who disposed of Chelsea 4-0 in the last four – who will start as firm favourites.
Frankfurt make Potsdam wait
Turbine Potsdam’s seemingly inexorable march towards the Frauen-Bundesliga title faltered for the first time on Sunday when third-placed 1. FFC Frankfurt inflicted the reigning champions’ first defeat of the season. A 2-1 triumph in this clash of Germany’s female titans briefly revived the victors' slim hopes of reclaiming the championship, although a win for Bernd Schroder’s Turbine yesterday means that they can now only be caught by second-placed FCR 2001 Duisburg, who are five points behind. Frankfurt have been boosted by the return of vastly experienced German international Ariane Hingst, who was also set to take her place in Silvia Neid’s squad for the friendly against Sweden before that match fell victim to the volcano-induced disruption in Europe. Turbine, meanwhile, are going for glory on two fronts, having booked their place in the UEFA Women's Champions League final in Getafe, where they will face either Umea or Lyon.
Road to Germany continues
Qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ has reached the halfway stage in Europe, with most of the continent’s traditional big guns looking well placed to qualify for September’s play-offs. Scotland, still with a 100 per cent record after four matches, are offering a threat to Denmark in Group 3, while Poland and Hungary are jostling for Group 4 pole position with the Netherlands currently leading Norway in Group 2, albeit having played two more matches. Spain also hold a three-point advantage over England, although the key result of the past month was a 1-0 win for Hope Powell’s side over their Iberian rivals that left the Three Lionesses needing just two more wins to secure first place in Group 5. Sweden, Russia and France remain firmly on course to reach the play-offs, while Italy and Finland – who drew 1-1 earlier on 31 March - are battling it out in the most closely-contested of all the group races. Europe will take a back seat in the coming month, however, with Africa and Asia set to finalise the process of determining their 2011 participants.
USA relish old rivalries
Having underlined their FIFA Women’s World Cup credentials by lifting the Algarve Cup last month, USA continued their build-up to Germany 2011 with back-to-back friendly wins over regional rivals Mexico. The first instalment of the double-header ended in a comfortable 3-0 win for Pia Sundhage’s side in San Diego, with Amy Rodriguez and Shannon Boxx on target before Lauren Cheney rounded off the win with her fifth international goal of 2010. Then, three days later on a snow-covered pitch in Utah – the first time USA’s women have ever played in such conditions – a solitary Abby Wambach proved sufficient to secure victory. Now, having seen off one old foe, the Americans will turn their attention to another, with world champions Germany set to arrive on 22 May for a friendly at Cleveland Browns Stadium as these dominant female forces meet on American soil for the first time in seven years.
Draws whet the appetite
Dresden Castle provided a spectacular backdrop for the draw for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, which pitted the hosts against Costa Rica, Colombia and France. The holders, USA, were left to face three very different football styles against Ghana, Switzerland and Korea Republic, while it was widely agreed that Brazil – drawn against former champions Korea DPR, Sweden and the ever-improving New Zealand - had been handed the toughest section. Attention now switches to Trinidad and Tobago, where the draw for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will take place in six days’ time on Wednesday 5 May. As always, check in with FIFA.com to find out who will be facing who in the second edition of this fledgling tournament.
The undoubted highlight of the past month in women’s football development was a Com-Unity seminar staged in Lesotho. Centred on communication – the role of the media in women’s football, women’s football promotion and its communication strategy – and aimed at the entire women's football pyramid, from associations to clubs, coaches and players, the seminar was punctuated by a girls’ football festival involving around 40 players. April also witnessed four courses take place in American Samoa, Jordan, Guinea-Bissau and Samoa, while Cameroon and Burundi played host to two women’s football consultancies.
344 – Kristine Lilly extended her own world record haul of international appearances, adding caps number 343 and 344 by playing in USA’s two recent victories over Mexico. The 38-year-old’s return to the international fold also enabled her to become the first female player in history to represent her country across four different decades. The US legend, who will turn 39 in July, won the first 15 of her caps in the 1980s, added 176 during the 1990s, 151 between 2000 and 2009, and has now claimed two in 2010, with more seemingly set to follow.
"It was competitive in Brazil and also when I played in Sweden. But without a doubt, the WPS is the best league in the world."
Marta relishes the challenge of a second WPS season