Some four months prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2013, England have sent out a message of intent to their continental rivals. The Three Lionesses defeated Olympic bronze medallists Canada 1-0 in the final of the prestigious Cyprus Women’s Cup, laying out their credentials as genuine contenders for the summer showdown in Sweden.
New Zealand's Football Ferns also confirmed recent progress in the Oceania confederation with a 2-1 victory over Switzerland in the third-place play-off.
A total of 12 teams divided into three groups went into battle in Cyprus. Four of the Women's EURO contenders, England, Italy, Finland and the Netherlands, incorporated the annual tournament into their preparations for the summer championship, using the intense period of competition for an in-depth analysis of their own strengths and weaknesses. FIFA.com reviews the action.
*Group A *Top spot and a place in the final went to England with a record of two wins and a draw. Hope Powell's side opened with a 4-2 victory over Italy before sharing the spoils in an eight-goal thriller against Scotland and rounding off their preliminary stage campaign with a 3-1 success against New Zealand.
The Football Ferns had been well placed before facing the Three Lionesses after beating the Scots 1-0 and Italy 2-0, but had to be content with the runners-up spot. It was a disappointing group stage for Italy who finished bottom of the section with no points.
*Group B *The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup™ on home soil is the overarching goal for Canada, who maintained their recent excellent form at the spring tournament in Cyprus. Coach John Herdman’s team made a clean sweep of Group B with a 2-0 victory over Switzerland, a 2-1 win against the Finns, and a narrow success against the Netherlands, with the only goal of the game supplied by superstar Christine Sinclair, also a scorer against Finland.
The Swiss claimed second spot and raised a few eyebrows with some highly encouraging performances, especially as they lost all three of their group fixtures last year. They earned four points this time thanks to a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and a 3-2 victory over Finland. The Dutch and the Finns came third and fourth respectively.
*Group C *Korea Republic and the Republic of Ireland laid on an exciting contest for top spot in the section. The Asians opened with a 2-0 victory over South Africa and then beat Northern Ireland 3-0, while the Irish thrashed their northern neighbours 5-1 and edged out the South Koreans 1-0. Perhaps inevitably, the meeting between the two form teams ended goalless, with both finishing on seven points and an identical goal difference. The Republic of Ireland claimed first place by virtue of scoring one more goal than the Koreans. South Africa finished third and Northern Ireland fourth in this section.
*Final and play-offs *The final between England and Canada was a rerun of the last-eight clash at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012 in London, where the Canadians prevailed at the host nation’s expense. The English were bent on revenge, but although both sides set off at a lively pace, chances went begging at both ends in the first half. For Powell’s team, Eniola Aluko’s deflected free-kick grazed the crossbar, and Ellen White steered a chance just wide of the near post.
For the Canadians, both Sinclair and Jonelle Filigno failed to put away a dangerous loose ball in the English box. Rachel Yankey punished that moment of profligacy with 20 minutes remaining, scoring what proved the winning goal and sealing a second Cyprus Women's Cup triumph for the Three Lionesses.
“Beating Canada is a great confidence booster,” England captain Casey Stoney told the English FA website, “I had been looking forward to the game because losing to them last summer really hurt me. It was great to get out there and right a few wrongs. The pain hasn’t completely gone but this win has helped a little bit.”
The third-place play-off between New Zealand and Switzerland looked to be going the Europeans’ way for a long spell, with Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s team leading until five minutes from time courtesy of Ana Maria Crnogorcevic’s 23rd-minute strike. But with the clock running down, New Zealand turned the game on its head when Betsy Hassett equalised and Hannah Wilkinson struck a second two minutes later to snatch victory for the Football Ferns.
Final and play-off results:
* 11th place play-off: Northern Ireland 1-1 South Africa (4-5 penalties)
9th place play-off: Korea Republic 0-1 Italy
7th place play-off: Republic of Ireland 0-1 Finland
5th place play-off: Scotland 1-0 Netherlands
3rd place play-off: New Zealand 2-1 Switzerland
Final: England 1-0 Canada*