Algarve Cup

Algarve Cup
Germany topple serial champions USA
( 16 Mar 2006

USA's Natasha Kai (C-R) and Abby Wambach (R) battle with Germany's Annike Krahn (L) and Birgit Prinz (C-L) during the Algarve Cup final at the Algarve Stadium, Faro 15 March 2006.

Germany handed coach Silvia Neid a debut to remember at her first tournament in charge by claiming the prestigious Algarve Cup for the first time. The European side beat the USA 4-3 on penalties after the final ended goalless at the end of both normal and extra time, thus denying their American rivals a fourth straight triumph at the tournament. Germany emulated the USA's feat from the previous year of not conceding a goal in normal time throughout the tournament. The result was the USA's first defeat since a 3-1 reverse against Denmark in November 2004.

Germans combine skill with luck
The Americans struck the bar twice, and keeper Silke Rottenberg was in world-class form as Germany somehow made it to half-time on level terms. However, the reigning world and European champions increasingly found their way into the match as the second period wore on and their opponents began to tire. With no goals in extra time, the Germans won through in the lottery of penalties as nerves triumphed over experience: Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach missed for the USA, with FIFA World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz off target for Germany.

Neid was delighted afterwards. "My team deserve the highest praise. They resisted well and fought hard. We were a trifle fortunate in the first half when they hit the bar twice, but we showed huge character. I'm very satisfied with the tournament, which is hardly a surprise after you've won it," she beamed. US coach Greg Ryan was in equally positive mood. "It was a good game from both teams. Germany dominated last year's match but we scored a lucky goal. We were the more aggressive team this year, but you get days when you simply don't score."

Both teams will be extremely satisfied with events at the tournament, as Germany and the USA are clearly streets ahead of their chief rivals in terms of athleticism, skill and tactics with just a year and a half to go before the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. By way of consolation for the Americans, veteran Shannon Boxx was named best player, and Hope Solo best goalkeeper of the tournament.

Sweden exact revenge against France
Sweden met France in the third-place play-off in a repeat of last year's match at the same stage. The Swedes went down 3-2 a year ago, but on this occasion Lotta Schelin's goal was enough to separate the sides and complete the Scandinavians' revenge mission. The women in yellow turned in their best half-hour of the tournament at the start, although a dark shadow was cast over the match by a horrific collision between France keeper Sarah Bouhaddi and Sweden superstar Hanna Ljungberg, who was ultimately stretchered from the field. Fortunately, initial fears of a broken jaw proved unfounded and the striker escaped with swelling and facial bruising.

Sweden improved from game to game but never appeared totally convincing, although coach Thomas Dennerby was not dissatisfied. "This is an incredibly valuable third place finish. I'm delighted for my players. We got better the longer the tournament went on." The Swedes have few problems in the goalkeeping and defensive departments, but their build-up play was often disjointed and the forward line looked uncharacteristically toothless. However, Dennerby did choose to re-jig his starting line-up from match to match, and his players are still in the pre-season phase back home.

The French showed signs of progress, and striker Hoda Lattaf's goal in a 4-1 defeat to the Americans was one of the best efforts of the tournament. France came to the Algarve Cup looking to blood younger players, but also gain confidence and competitive practice ahead of a tough-looking World Cup qualifying trip to England.

Fifth-placed Norwegians show promise
Norway earned the most plaudits from the tournament after the USA and Germany, although a positive overall impression was tarnished by an inability to find the net. Bjarne Berntsen's team failed to score in all three group matches against Sweden, Finland and Germany despite dominating proceedings for long spells. At the end of the day, Trine Rønning finally netted her country's solitary goal of the tournament to seal fifth place in a 1-0 victory over China. Berntsen's troops won admirers for their physical prowess and team unity, and created an enviable number of chances. In mitigation, the domestic season does not resume until 6 May, and the Scandinavians were without key attacking players Solveig Gulbrandsen, Dagny Mellgren and Isabel Herlovsen.

Norway will surely emerge as genuine contenders for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, and Berntsen's summing-up was suitably positive. "We look good at creating chances, but we forgot to dot the i's and cross the t's." The coach was impressed with his side's last opponents: "China have been genuinely classy at the tournament, and they're definitely in with a chance of winning the World Cup."

China opened with a commendable goalless draw against the Americans, but their hopes of a better finish in Portugal evaporated in a 1-0 defeat to France in their second game. The absence of veteran Sun Wen appeared to rob a young team of confidence, and their performance must go down as disappointing. A comfortable 6-0 triumph against Denmark had little more than statistical value. The Danes lost almost half their squad to injury, and also rested key players in advance of a vital World Cup qualifier against Belgium on 26 March. Chinese coach Ma Liangxing was only truly satisfied with her defenders. "We had problems up front. It's not an area we paid huge attention to when we were preparing, and we ended up creating very few chances. That's what we now have to work on."

Consolation for Denmark and Finland
Denmark rounded off a below-par tournament, including heavy defeats to China and the USA, with an encouraging 4-0 victory against Ireland. Coach Peter Bonde was pleased with Cathrine Paaske Sørensen's brace, and thrilled at keeping a clean sheet after conceding 11 times in two matches. "That was important for us. I'm especially pleased we've seen the return of the "old" Cathrine Paaske," he remarked.

Euro 2005 semi-finalists Finland fell some way short of the standards they set the previous year. Coach Michael Käld remained confident at half-time in their opening match against Germany, but he was shortly to suffer the agony of watching his team fall apart after going behind. Heavy defeats to Germany and Sweden were not fully balanced by a fortunate draw against Norway. The Finns redeemed themselves with a 4-3 victory over Group C winners Mexico in their final match, although even then they almost tossed away a 4-0 advantage.


Group A:
Germany 5 Finland 0
Norway 0 Sweden 0
Sweden 0 Germany 3
Finland 0 Norway 0
Germany 1 Norway 0
Sweden 4 Finland 1

Group B:
USA 0 China 0
France 2 Denmark 2
Denmark 0 USA 5
China 0 France 1
USA 4 France 1
Denmark 0 China 6

Group C:
Portugal 0 Ireland 1
Ireland 0 Mexico 0
Portugal 0 Mexico 6

Group A standings:
1. Germany 9 pts, F9 A0
2. Sweden 4 pts, F4 A4
3. Norway 2 pts, F0 A1
4. Finland 1 pt, F1 A9

Group B standings:
1. USA 7 pts, F9 A1
2. France 4 pts, F4 A6
3. China 4 pts, F6 A1
4. Denmark 1 pt, F2 A13

Group C standings:
1. Mexico 4 pts, F6 A0
2. Ireland 4 pts, F1 A0
3. Portugal 0 pts, F0 A7

Final: Germany 0 USA 0 (aet, Germany win 4-3 on penalties)
Third place play-off: Sweden 1 France 0
Fifth place play-off: Norway 1 China 0
Seventh place play-off: Mexico 3 Finland 4
Ninth place play-off: Ireland 0 Denmark 4

Final standings
1. Germany
2. USA
3. Sweden
4. France
5. Norway
6. China
7. Finland
8. Mexico
9. Denmark
10. Ireland
11. Portugal


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