France, Germany thrive as USA flounder
© AFP

Whoever wins next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, chances are they will have spent the past two weeks strutting their stuff in the spring sunshine of Cyprus and the Algarve. Every team that has ever lifted women’s football’s most coveted prize was on show at these two elite annual tournaments, which, as always, offered intriguing evidence of the leading teams’ current health.

And while some, most notably the tournament champions, France and Germany, will return home boosted by their showing, others will have realised that much work remains to be done before next year’s Canadian showpiece. FIFA.com rounds up the main events.

Algarve Cup
All four former Women’s World Cup winners – Germany, Japan, Norway and USA – were in action in Portugal, and to say they enjoyed mixed fortunes would be an understatement. The Americans’ travails became the story of the tournament, with Tom Sermanni’s team – who had gone into the tournament unbeaten in two years, and as many pundits’ favourites – failing to win any of their three group matches.

A draw against Japan and losses to Sweden and Denmark, with five goals conceded in the latter defeat, left the US – record nine-time winners of the Algarve Cup - bottom of their group and facing a seventh-place play-off against Korea DPR. That was a match they won convincingly, showing plenty of the familiar strength and style in a resounding 3-0 win. But captain Christie Rampone admitted that serious improvement is required. “The results in this tournament are obviously not up to our standards,” she said. “We have to re-focus and re-evaluate and we will get better leading into the rest of the year.”

Norway, meanwhile, fared even worse, losing all three of their group matches before going down 1-0 to Russia to finish in tenth position. At the other end of the spectrum, Iceland emerged as tournament’s surprise package, beating both the Norwegians and China PR in their section before enjoying an impressive 2-1 win over Sweden in the third-place play-off. "We played smart and contained them well," said one of their goalscorers against the Swedes, Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir. "It was an extremely comfortable victory.”

The silverware, though, went to Germany - and they were nothing if not deserved victors. Four successive wins by an aggregate score of 12-1 tells the story of the European champions’ outstanding campaign, with China, Iceland and Norway all beaten en route to the final. And while Japan looked sure to offer a tough test, having emerged unbeaten against Denmark, Sweden and USA, they too succumbed to a 3-0 defeat in which Anja Mittag and Dzsenifer Marozsan scored after substitute Nadine Kessler had broken the deadlock with her first touch.

“The team did everything right and put into practice all the things we planned,” said their delighted coach, Sylvia Neid. “We have improved game by game and conceded just one goal, and even that was a penalty.”

Neid’s Japan counterpart, Norio Sasaki, meanwhile, was gracious in defeat. “The Germans are in the middle of their season. We’re not and it showed,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes and in the second half we were hesitant. But credit Germany. They did a fine job of exploiting their opportunities.”

Cyprus Cup
Just as the Germans reclaimed a trophy they last won two years ago, so France ensured symmetry across the two competitions by repeating their 2012 Cyprus Cup triumph.

The final had pitted them against 2013 winners England, with both sides showing plenty of signs for encouragement under their respective new coaches.
France, with Philippe Bergeroo now at the helm, shone during a group phase that included wins over Australia (3-2) and the Netherlands (3-0), and a 1-1 draw with Scotland. The English, for their part, went one better with three straight wins and a trio of clean sheets in seeing off Italy (2-0), Finland (3-0) and Canada (2-0).

But it was the French who had the upper hand in yesterday’s final, with early goals from Gaetane Thiney and Camille Abily maintaining Les Bleues’ 40-year unbeaten run against the Three Lionesses. "We were decisive in the first half,” said Bergeroo. “After that, England could not come back. Our goal was to play and counter-attack, and that's what we did. Overall, I'm satisfied with the tournament."

Though denied a morale-boosting win in his first significant tournament as England coach, Mark Sampson was also far from unhappy. "France hurt us with their speed," said the 31-year-old, who had been unbeaten going into the game. "But when we got into the game we began to control it and looked a much better team, especially in the second half. So there were lots of positives."

That same outlook could have been shared by Korea Republic and Scotland, the teams that played out the third-place play-off. The Scots, in fact, had looked certain to book a final date with the ‘Auld Enemy’, having beaten Australia and the Netherlands and drawn with France, until a 94th-minute Wendie Renard goal against the Dutch took the eventual winners through on goal difference.

And though Anna Signeul’s side were again out of luck in their final fixture, losing on penalties to the South Koreans after a hard-fought 1-1 draw, Lisa Evans took the top goalscorer award to leave every team in the top four with something to cheer. There were even plus points for Women's World Cup hosts Canada, who would have hoped for better than a fifth-place finish, but still departed Cyprus with three wins from four games, having only fallen short against the English.