This first day of the Algarve Cup did not begin auspiciously for me: after driving for about ten kilometers and finally starting to develop some confidence that I wasn’t going to die at the hands of crazy Portuguese drivers, I suddenly look at the fuel gauge and realize they’ve given me a rental car with absolutely no gas in it. (Next time, I don’t go with the cheapest company.) So with the GPS sighing “recalculating” at me over and over again in a sniffy British accent, I drive all over looking for a gas station. The first one I find has no gas, but I’m sent back into town to a BP station where I have to put 36 liters in (at a cost of 57 euros – and Americans complain about what they pay for gas.)
Fortunately, it was uneventful after that. I even managed to use a traffic circle to make a u-turn and get headed back in the right direction. I arrived at the stadium with plenty of time to spare, parked the car, walked into the lovely town of Lagos, had some lunch and wandered a bit, then returned in time for the Germany-Iceland match, though, alas, not in time for the player introductions.
Germany 1, Iceland 0
This was one of those games where every individual matchup seemed to be in one team’s favor (Germany’s in this case, of course), but despite that the superior team can make nothing of it. Germany didn’t seem to have much ability to string attacking passes together and play as a team. Their one goal came in the 25th minute as Anja Mittag managed to redirect a cross in from the left just past the Iceland goalkeeper.
Late in the game, Germany seemed to finally get its act together and produce some genuine attacks. I began expecting another goal or two, but Iceland withstood the assault and didn’t allow any further scoring. Despite the loss, you’ve got to think Iceland is a lot happier with the result than Germany is.
United States 5, Denmark 0
The US starters were no great surprise: Solo in goal; O’Hara, Rampone, Buehler, and LePeilbet across the back; Cheney, Boxx, Lloyd, and O’Reilly in midfield; and Morgan and Wambach up top.
This match looked to be going the same way as the Germany match, another superior team unable to get its act together enough to score much. In the 21st minute, Alex Morgan received a nice feed at the top right corner of the box, beat her defender, and sent a ball in that bounced off the left post and then slid to the right just barely enough to go over the end line for a goal. That looked to be it for the first half until in stoppage time another nice feed came in to Morgan, who settled the ball about forty yards out from goal, charged in toward the right post to draw defenders and the goalkeeper, then sent the ball over to Abby Wambach, who knocked it in.
To start the second half, the US made three substitutions: Stephanie Cox for Kelley O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez for Abby Wambach, and Tobin Heath in for Heather O’Reilly. A-Rod actually took over the left flank position that Lauren Cheney started in while Cheney moved up top where Abby had been for the first half. This seemed to bring a lot more energy to the team, and the second half ended up being much more exciting than the first. Heath and Rodriguez almost teamed up for a goal a few minutes in, Heath bringing the ball toward goal from the center then sending it wide to A-Rod, who put it back in, but the shot went off the goalkeeper and wide. Heath again a few minutes later just skipped past a defender on the end line with the ball, but the shot was cleared for a corner kick. Defender Stephanie Cox got a rare shot off a short corner that she hammered in, but right to the goalkeeper.
The match finally broke open in the 77th minute thanks mostly to Lauren Cheney. She got a good long feed and took it down the left flank, drew the goalkeeper out, sent a shot off the left post, collected the rebound, then centered it for Lloyd, who put it away with the goalkeeper still scrambling to get back in position.
Five minutes later it was Alex Morgan again. At the top of the box, she and Heath scrapped with a couple of defenders. Tobin managed to draw enough attention to give Alex some space, then slid the ball over to her, which she fired into the net in a real bang-bang play.
Immediately after that, Sydney Leroux came on for Cheney and managed to score herself off a close-range shot with seconds left in stoppage time to make the final score a solid 5-0 – a bit improvement after a shaky start.
Player of the Match: Alex Morgan, obviously, with two goals and an assist. She’s really starting to become one of those players like Mia Hamm and Marta, who make you sit up whenever they get the ball because you know something amazing is liable to happen. My only criticism is that she needs to tone down her enthusiasm a little. My favorite mixed “Baby Horse” moment was early in the game, when she made a heroic rescue of a ball that was going out the end line, then crossed it with such enthusiasm that it went over everyone and had to be picked up by Amy LePeilbet, the US defender on the far side of the field.
At the End of the Day
I survived the drive back as well, despite it being after dark. Tomorrow I’ll probably play tourist, but on Friday I’ll be back in harness again. In fact, if I feel sufficiently ambitious I’ll be taking in three games in three different stadiums: Denmark-Japan in Parchal, US-Norway back in Lagos again, and Wales-Ireland in Ferreiras. Wish me luck! (It’s not as bad as it sounds because Parchal and Ferreiras are between here and Lagos.)