March is traditionally one of the most exciting periods in the women's game, and not just because the eighth of the month is International Women's Day. This year was no exception, as the last four weeks have produced a good crop of exciting and emotional moments in global women's football.
The highlights included an international tournament on the Mediterranean coast featuring a top-class starting field, the countdown to the decisive stage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, the battle for places at the respective finals in London, Japan and Azerbaijan, and a tightly-bunched leading group in the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking.
Arguably the most charged event of all was the official retirement of one of the all-time greats. Germany's most capped player and all-time leading goalscorer Birgit Prinz contested her farewell match - a glittering goodbye which attracted a number of her former team-mates and colleagues, alongside a VIP supporting cast. The two-time FIFA Women's World Cup™ winner and three-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year will remain an idol for generations to come.
FIFA.com looks back over events in the women's game during the month of March 2012. For comprehensive coverage of the main highlights from the last few weeks, just follow the appropriate links in the right navigation.
National teams *Fallen giants bounce back in Portugal
*As always, the prestigious Algarve Cup threw up the first pointers of the year as the world elite gathered for the form-finding spring meeting. As it turned out, Germany claimed the trophy, putting the smiles back on the squad’s faces after what was a deeply disappointing campaign at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ on home soil. The Algarve Cup final even handed the Europeans a measure of revenge for their quarter-final exit at the global showdown, as they defeated world champions Japan 4-3. Prior to that, the Japanese won a re-run of the 2011 final 1-0 against the USA. That result saw Germany close the gap on the North Americans and almost topple them from the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, as the gap between the long-term rivals is now a wafer-thin three points.
*Cyprus celebrations for Les Bleues
*Parallel to the Algarve Cup, the French were sending out an unmistakable message to their rivals at the Cyprus Cup, where Bruno Bini’s team lifted the trophy with a 2-0 victory over Canada, who were appearing in their fifth consecutive final. Louisa Necib and company reminded fans and experts alike that fourth place at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup was no flash in the pan, and that they are serious contenders in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament 2012 in London.
*Ready for Japan and Azerbaijan
*The up-and-coming prospects of the month hail from South America, where Uruguay sealed a berth at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan, securing the nation's first ever shot at a FIFA Women's World Cup title. Brazil and Colombia claimed the remaining qualifying berths. There were no surprises in Africa as Nigeria and Ghana claimed their regulation berths. Gambia and Tunisia will contest the remaining African place at the finals. Meanwhile, USA, Canada and Mexico will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2012 in Japan.
*New Zealand on course for London
*An 8-0 win over Papua New Guinea in the OFC Olympic Qualifier final has seen New Zealand move within 90 minutes of booking their tickets for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012. Braces for both Amber Hearn and Rosie White saw the Football Ferns coast past PNG, scoring four in either half to see them almost certainly through to their second successive summer games. Steven Mune's defeated visitors had topped a four-team tournament featuring Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa to reach the play-off, but face a huge task on 3 April in the home leg.
*Brunner calls time on illustrious career
*A remarkable career has come to a premature end on the news that Switzerland's most-capped player, goalkeeper Marisa Brunner, has been forced to retire from the game with injury. “Dealing with the daily pain and trying to carry on regardless has robbed me of so much energy, I've been forced to conclude that I need to follow a different path," commented the 29-year-old, who has been afflicted by persistent knee and ankle pain for almost three years. Brunner has been with German Bundesliga club Freiburg since 2007 and made 78 appearances for Switzerland.
Club football *Dream team for Seattle
*As is widely known, the planned 2012 WPS season in North America has been cancelled, allowing second tier W-League outfit Seattle Sounders to recruit a star-studded squad. Following up the signings of Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, the Pacific coast club have also brought in Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox, Solo and Morgan's team-mates in the USA side which finished runners-up at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011. The Seattle squad also includes Mexican FIFA Women's World Cup participant Veronica Perez.
*Angerer commits to Frankfurt
*“My hunger for success and passion for the game remain huge. On top of that, I feel really happy here in Frankfurt," said Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer on signing a contract extension with FFC Frankfurt, keeping her at Germany's most successful club until the summer of 2013. The 33-year-old FIFA Women's World Cup and UEFA Women's EURO winner has been with Frankfurt since 2009.
*Arsenal delight at double reunion
*Nicely timed for the start of the new Women's Super League season, Arsenal LFC have announced two new star signings. With the Boston Breakers project at least temporarily on hold, England internationals Kelly Smith and Alex Scott are returning to their former club in London. “It feels like they're coming home," commented ALFC manager Vic Akers.
*Kobe dominate in Far East
*Kobe Leonessa have underlined Japan's gold standard status in Asian women's football with a prestige victory over Daekyo Kangaroos. The teams, 2011 champions of Japan and Korea Republic respectively, met in Kobe in a form of Supercup fixture, with the home side running out comfortable 3-0 winners. This trial of strength, although officially a friendly, has now taken place three times and looks like becoming a regular date on the calendar.
Developing the women's game
With just under six months to go until the start of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan, the host nation has staged a colourful festival for girls, kicking off the “Live Your Goals" initiative and the “Legacy" program, which includes refereeing instruction and courses.
Elsewhere, three projects have been set in motion in Palestine: a program of coaching instruction, a strategy and development plan, and extra support for the local women's football league. All clubs registered for the league receive the necessary equipment from FIFA. Furthermore, a women's football instructor seminar was held in Zurich, with miscellaneous women's football courses held in Tonga and East Timor.
The stat 3 – For the third time in three seasons, Olympique Lyon and Turbine Potsdam will meet in the UEFA Women's Champions League. The leading clubs from France and Germany crossed swords in the final for the last two years, Potsdam triumphing in 2010 and Lyon in 2011. The pair now meet in this season's last four. The second semi-final pits FFC Frankfurt against Arsenal LFC. The first legs will be played on April 14, with the decisive returns exactly a week later.
Quote of the month *“Birgit Prinz’s contribution to women's football is unique. She has left an enormous impression on her sport way beyond the German borders, especially due to her extraordinary performances. She is a symbol of quality around the world. Her success has set benchmarks which will be incredibly difficult to match," *German FA (DFB) President Wolfgang Niersbach at the farewell match for Germany's most-capped player.