Curtain up for star-studded dress rehearsals
The Algarve and Cyprus Cups are undoubtedly the two most prestigious women's international exhibition tournaments and offer teams an opportunity to serve notice of their credentials on the big stage. This holds even truer every four years, when the events on Cypriot and Portuguese soil serve as a warm-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup™.
This year's action will be no exception to the rule, as whoever comes out on top will gain a major shot of confidence prior to heading off to the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™ in June. The only snag comes for those players who would love to lift both trophies – as well as for fans interested in following every single kick – as the two tournaments take place concurrently from 4-11 March. FIFA.com gives you the lowdown.
A field of champions The Algarve Cup is the older of the two events, having been crowning the unofficial queens of world football since 1994. This year's competition features not only the top five in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, but also all four previous Women's World Cup winners in Germany, USA, Japan and Norway. The Americans and Norwegians have the most pedigree in Portugal, having clinched the crown nine and four times respectively, and they will lock horns in Group B, which is rounded off by Switzerland and Iceland.
Holders Germany face a stern test in Group A, which includes fellow three-time titlists Sweden, two-time winners China PR and South American giants Brazil, who oddly enough are making their debut at the tournament. Group C, meanwhile, makes up for the lack of previous winners in the Algarve with the presence of reigning world champions Japan and a hugely ambitious France side who currently lie third in the global rankings, not to mention hosts Portugal and Denmark, both desperate to atone for their failure to qualify for Canada 2015.
Iceland are the only other participants who will not be present at the Canadian showpiece, a fact which speaks volumes of the quality of the field. Indeed, the top stars will be looking to shine, with no fewer than three former FIFA Women's World Players of the Year involved in the shape of Marta, Nadine Angerer and Abby Wambach. Flamboyant USA goalkeeper Hope Solo will also be chomping at the bit, having been sidelined for a while owing to off-the-pitch issues. By contrast, there will be very few big-name absentees, though they do include the 2014 World Player, Germany's Nadine Kessler, who is working her way back to full fitness. The winner of the 2011 accolade, Japan's Homare Sawa, will also miss out, as will influential French playmaker Louisa Necib, who is injured.
The two best group winners will face off in the final, while the odd one out will contest the match for third place against the leading runners-up. All the other teams will go into the placement round, in which everything from fifth to 12th position will be determined through direct match-ups pitting countries against their closest counterparts based on their round-robin results.
Canada and England the favourites in Cyprus While a clutch of big fish are going at it along the Atlantic, several dark horses for world glory will be bidding to fly out of the traps on the shores of the Mediterranean. This is a happy hunting ground for both World Cup hosts Canada, ranked ninth in the world, and England, who sit three places higher, as both have prevailed in two of the tournament's six editions apiece, with last year's champions France claiming the trophy on the remaining two occasions.
The Three Lionesses are in Group A, where they will take on two fellow Canada 2015 qualifiers in Australia and Netherlands, plus Finland. In Group B, the Canucks will face Canada 2015-bound Korea Republic, as well as Italy and Scotland, who both came close to reaching the showpiece only to fall at the last and penultimate hurdle respectively in the play-offs.
Last but not least, Group C boasts a similar line-up, with two World Cup-bound countries in Mexico and New Zealand and two European teams – Belgium and Czech Republic – who put in decent showings in their ultimately unsuccessful qualifying campaigns.
Unlike the Algarve Cup, the final and the play-off for third place are only open to the winners and runners-up from Groups A and B, which have top billing. The remaining sides, including all the Group C participants, will face off in placement matches to decide who finishes fifth to 12th.