Italy lose Cyprus Cup final to Korea DPR
France 2019 participants Nigeria and Thailand fight it out for seventh
South Africa finish the tournament in tenth place
With this being a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ year, the latest edition of the Cyprus Cup took on special importance. Twelve teams were involved in the tournament on the Mediterranean island, split into three groups. For Italy, Nigeria, Thailand and South Africa, it was an ideal opportunity to prepare for the biggest of stages later in the year and to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the Women’s World Cup, for which all four have qualified.
Italy were the leaders of that particular pack, making it all the way to the final before suffering defeat in a penalty shootout. South Africa on the other hand, who will be making their Women's World Cup debut this year, had a less successful time of it.
Although they fell at the final hurdle for the second time in the Cyprus Cup after losing to Spain last year, Italy came out of the tournament brimming with confidence and fired up for what awaits in France later in the year. The final was full of excitement and emotion, with the Italians eventually succumbing to Korea DPR, 7-6 on penalties.
It was in the group phase however that Italy showed what they were truly capable of, cruising past Mexico (5-0), Hungary (3-0) and Thailand (4-1), with that clean sweep plus a goal difference of +11 seeing them straight through to the final. Valentina Giacinti was among the tournament’s top scorers with four, putting her just behind Kim Yun-mi of Korea DPR in the final table.
"We can take the positives out of all the matches, even tonight’s," said coach Milena Bertolini after the final. "The girls had an incredible tournament. We’re disappointed that what we showed out on the pitch wasn’t enough for us to win the whole thing. We need to learn how to keep a clear head and be more rational. It was a tense match and at times our emotions got the better of us. That’s where we have to improve."
Nigeria finished off their maiden Cyprus Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over Thailand, putting Thomas Dennerby’s team in seventh place overall thanks to goals from Asisat Oshoala, Onome Ebi and Anam Imo.
The Super Falcons kicked off their tournament with a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Austria, before turning things around with a hard-fought 4-3 win over Slovakia. The African champions then fell 1-0 to Belgium, leaving them third in their group.
In another event being used as a warm-up for the Women’s World Cup, Nigeria had previously finished third in a four-nation tournament in Meizhou, China.
The team from south-east Asia were also making their Cyprus Cup debut, with this being their final warm-up before taking on defending Women’s World Cup champions USA in Reims on 11 June. They got off to a flying start, thrashing Hungary 4-0, but after that, the quality of the opposition improved, with Nuengrutai Srathongvian’s team going down 2-1 to Mexico and 3-0 to eventual finalists Italy.
Things did not go as planned for Banyana Banyana in Cyprus. The group stages saw them slip to defeat against Korea DPR and Czech Republic, a draw with Finland being the only consolation for coach Desiree Ellis’ team, who ended up bottom of Group A. South Africa then played Finland again for ninth place, led out by Noko Matlou who was celebrating her 150th cap, with 64 goals for her country into the bargain. She did not manage to add to the latter tally however, as Finland ran out 3-0 winners.
"We tried out a number of different players and formations, and now we know what kind of depth we have available on the bench," said Ellis, taking the positives out of the tournament. "This was an incredibly important exercise, coming as it did so soon before the World Cup. We got to see virtually every player in all kinds of different situations – what more can you ask for?"