Monthly Archives: March 2012

Brazil-Canada Recap: Random Thoughts About A Random Game

Sorry I’m a little late with this, real life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t do it intentionally to look disorganized as Brazil always seems to be in these situations. Normally it’s mostly off the field, as was the talk of the press box during the game Saturday in Foxboro, but this Brazil side looked particularly disheveled on the field as well, which is slightly disheartening. Even though they are a rival of the United States , no one likes to see tremendous talent go to waste, and it always seems like Brazil has a ludicrous amount of talent.

Rather than give you a boring game report that would tell you that Christine Sinclair scored twice and now has 133 international goals for her career and Canada won 2-1, I figured I’d just tell you what I found interesting:

  • Unfortunately, I was there to cover the New England-Portland MLS game which followed, so I didn’t have too much time after the game to talk to everyone involved. But it wasn’t the most organized operation in the world, at least for us people that don’t cover the teams on a regular basis. The media was ushered into a mixed zone, which isn’t all that unusual, but either we missed or didn’t see either head coach, which stinks. Karina LeBlanc, about as media friendly as they come, gave us some time. Christine Sinclair, also generally nice (and also used to talking to the media), came by. I awkwardly yelled out to Desiree Scott, more on that in a bit, but that was about it.

Some of this is understandable. There was no home team, and the game was somewhat hastily thrown together to help both teams. But, from a media perspective, it was just strange.

  • I still really have trouble with the Marta hate I see from time to time. First, she was clearly the best player either team had, and it wasn’t even close. From high up, her field vision, her positioning, her technical ability served to really change the game after Canada had dominated the first half. In a somewhat relaxed friendly atmosphere, it was a joy to watch.

Marta came down the tunnel after the game, laughing with LeBlanc, then saw the media waiting, and immediately had an uncomfortable look on her face. She took LeBlanc aside, chatted with her for another minute, then turned around to face the media, which – of course – was all there to see her.

Foreign countries are often different with their media, and in addition to answering questions, Marta was asked to pose for numerous pictures and sign autographs. She did so willingly and with a smile on her face, albeit somewhat reluctantly, long after every other player, Canadian or Brazilian, was long gone.

Marta is clearly the best player in the world, but she can’t find a regular team because everywhere she goes, the team seems to fold. Her national federation seems virtually invisible sometimes when it comes to their women’s team. And – as I alluded to – she’s just not someone who seeks out the spotlight, she just wants to play soccer.

So, excuse me for feeling a little sorry for her.

  • On the field, Brazil was dreadful tactically, as a back four of Maurine, Erika, Daiane, and Raffaele Sousa looked like they had never played together before. And maybe they haven’t. You may remember Brazil under Kleiton Lima played a sweeper, but Jorge Barcellos went flat, which takes time to develop. Of course, it takes practice to develop, too, and we’re not completely sure how much of that he’s going to get, although you’d think the upcoming trip to Japan will be huge for them. They were without Rosana, Cristiane, and Elaine for various reasons, so their depth was exposed a bit, too.

Canada really should have had three or four goals in the first 30 minutes. There was a scary moment at the end of the first half where goalkeeper Andreia, who played well, was involved in a nasty collision. She was eventually stretchered from the field, although they personnel didn’t seem entirely sure where to take her. She was eventually taken to the hospital, but for what we were told for precautionary reasons.

  • So, bottom line, as you might imagine, it’s hard to get a read on Brazil out of this game. They only had 17 players dressed and looked completely disorganized. But they will (I hope) have some time to clean things up by the summer with some more games, and with Marta on the field, I’m not counting them out of anything.
  • On the other side, John Herdman played a 4-4-2. It seems to me you can relate the present situation with the Canadian women with the problem the U.S. men have. Canada was able to get tremendous results using young players in the 2003 World Cup (and a couple of other tournaments in that era) under Evan Pellerud, but we know now that Pellerud probably wasn’t exactly developing creative players that would push Canada forward technically, was he? Obviously, like in the case of Kara Lang, injuries derailed promising careers, but – other than Sinclair – almost all of those players are gone, all but forgotten as we get ready for the 2012 Olympics.

Canada will be a tough out, but you wonder how good Sinclair and Canada would be with a couple of creative players around her (as France, Germany, and a few others seem to have), players that should have been developing in the last decade.

While people are upset (rightfully so) that the U.S. men won’t be going to the Olympics, Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that this is a long-term process, which the failure this week clearly showed. Patience is needed.

  • Anyway, Herdman seems to have a plethora of defensive midfielders, although he had Kaylyn Kyle on the bench for this game, and pushed Sophie Schmidt into a more advanced position, which she handled pretty well, better than I would have thought, including a beautiful assist on what turned out to be the winning goal.

I was very impressed with Desiree Scott, whom I thought was the player of the match in this game, a true defensive mid in every sense of the word, she controlled the midfield when Canada was at their best. She played a key role in Canada qualifying for the Olympics, kind of coming out of nowhere, as in we saw her in a wide position in last year’s World Cup.

“The new coach coming in has helped,” Scott said. “I’ve gone from a sub to a starter, he’s brought something out in me that I’ve never seen before.”

  • I still, though, think when push comes to shove, that Canada may be a creative player or two short when you’re talking about taking down a France or (a full-strength) Brazil, host Great Britain, or the United States right now. But they’re not that far off.
  • LeBlanc (as well as Scott and Sinclair) talked about beating a Tier 1 team (which I guess Brazil is) as significant, and also talked about Herdman emphasizing attacking play, which we kind of saw, but I didn’t exactly see the ball pinging around the field. Baby steps, I guess.

LeBlanc did have the quote of the day when she reminded me that Canada played at Gillette Stadium (then brand new) in the 2003 World Cup.

“We’ve played here before in 2003,” she said. “I lived in Boston for three years, played for the Breakers. Tom Brady? Love him. It’s an honor to be on a field like this. What a great place to get my 100th cap.”

  • Brazil’s goal scorer, Gabriela Demoner was called Demosier on the roster given out, and I think a couple of other names by the end of the day. Luckily, Jeff Kassouf was on the case, and knew who she was and sorted out the problem. Brazil evidently took on Demoner’s former college team, Franklin Pierce, in a friendly on Thursday. While a thrill for those kids and Franklin Pierce is a very good Division II team, it will be a little step up when they get to Japan.
  • One final story (and feel free to ask questions or point out my mistakes, this is a pretty interactive site): It was definitely a partisan Brazil crowd, as there are plenty of Brazilians in the Northeast. In 2008 I went to a friendly (on the back of an MLS game) between Brazil and Venezuela, and the place was just about sold out, people arriving hours before, craziness. Somehow Venezuela actually won the game 2-0, by the way.

But I think back to that game, and to the brilliance that Marta shows every time she steps on the field, and the difference between the couple of thousand people at Saturday’s game and the chaos of that 2008 night.

I just hope in time Marta gets the credit she deserves.

 

Japan Welcomes the USWNT and Canada/Brazil Coverage

The USWNT is prepping for its turn in the first edition of the Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup. The team appears to be getting all-star treatment. Hope Solo and Abby Wambach appeared on a Japanese talk show (video) and later spent time with a robotic robot.

Our man in Japan Hal Edmonson will be providing exclusive insight into the tournament. He’ll be present at the U.S.’s two matches against Japan and Brazil.

Undeterred by a pesky language barrier, Hal has generously sent along some interesting bits of news. Homare Sawa is officially out of Japan’s squad through vertigo. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner is suffering from “acute positional vertigo”, which sounds rather unpleasant.

Here is Japan’s official squad: (The U.S.’s squad was unveiled a few days ago; it features the same 23 players from the Algarve Cup).

Perhaps most interestingly, Hal also shed light on a possible link between L-League club INAC Kobe and Abby Wambach. Wambach appeared at an INAC Kobe training session to wish Sawa well (brief video here). The team’s chairman told a reporter that he was interested in attempting to acquire Wambach after the Olympics.

Per this article:

“SportsNavi has learned that INAC Kobe is targeting USWNT star forward Abby Wambach following the 2012 Olympics. Wambach dropped in on the INAC Kobe training camp in Kagoshima on Wednesday to pay respects to Nadeshiko midfielder Homare Sawa, who is still suffering from acute positional vertigo.”

During her visit to the Kagoshima camp, Wambach briefly joined the practice, trading passes and joking with Nadeshiko Japan players Shinobu Ono and Yukari Kinga as the team’s chairman, Honson Mun, looked on eagerly. “We’ll have to have a discussion with her after the Olympics. Two years ago, it would have been difficult, but now with the American pro league gone, the landscape is perfect for a transfer,” Mun said. “If things go well, she could be a centerpiece of INAC in the second half of the campaign. I think she could fit in well here with our players.”

According to other press reports, Wambach didn’t exactly play down the speculation saying, “If WPS re-launches, I’ll sign there, but if that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that Sawa and I could be teammates.”

Wambach and Sawa were Washington Freedom (WPS) teammates from 2009 to 2010.

Fanciful rumor? Overblown speculation? Either way, a Wambach and Sawa reunion would be pretty awesome.

 

Also, as you likely know, Canada will meet Brazil in a friendly today in the Boston area (which seems to be the epicenter of women’s soccer in the U.S.). The match will precede the New England Revolution/Portland Timbers match.

Our man Ray Curren is on the beat, so check back later for post-match coverage.

Star-Studded 2011-12 UEFA Women’s Champions League Semi-finals Set

Olympique Lyonnais and Turbine Potsdam were fated to reprise their UEFA Women’s Champions League rivalry from the moment this year’s competition kicked off. They are the only two sides that have made it to the tournament’s finale since it was re-branded in the 2010-11 season. The regional powerhouses exchanged victories in those two years.

Destiny was fulfilled – partly, at least. The duo was set on a collision course, but this year’s clash will occur at an earlier stage. A date in the semi-finals awaits.

Turbine Potsdam’s convincing 3-0 win over Rossiyanka Thursday capped off the quarter-finals stage of the 2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League. A regal quartet of semi-finalists are left. The phase will be contested by four former continental champions (Arsenal and Frankfurt were crowned champions in the erstwhile UEFA Women’s Cup and will face off in the other tie).

Lyon returns to the familiar setting of the latter rounds with considerable pomp. The holders breezed past Brondby with successive 4-0 score lines. Eugenie Le Sommer remains voracious for goals. The 22-year-old’s padded her goal tally – now eight; a tournament best – with a brace in the away leg against the Danish side.

The magisterial French champions haven’t conceded a single goal in the competition since November 4, 2010 – thirteen matches, sixteen months, and counting.

Which team holds the distinction of being the last club to score against Lyon? Rossiyanka, in a 6-1 defeat in last season’s Round of 16.

The Russian side tasted defeat this year as well. Turbine Potsdam upped its aggregate lead from the first leg to 5-0. Despite a determined start, three defensive gaffes ultimately damned Rossiyanka. On two occasions Yuki Nagasoto was in the right place in the right time to punish the home side. Of note, the match featured six former WPS players – a tournament record.

Turbine Potsdam’s victory may have been more comprehensive than that of German rivals’ FFC Frankfurt, but it was significantly less suspenseful. Embattled Frankfurt coach Sven Kahlert partially silenced his critics with a gutsy substitution that paid dividends.

Frankfurt were facing a 1-0 deficit against Swedish champions Malmö heading into the home leg. In recent weeks, the side has made more encouraging moves off the pitch than on it with the acquisitions of stellar defenders Bianca Schmidt and Babett Peter from Turbine Potsdam. The coups will undoubtedly redouble Frankfurt’s efforts to remain in the Champions League. That’s an unlikely prospect this season, however, as the club is currently five points off a European place. A 1-0 loss to a middling Hamburg side last weekend certainly didn’t help matters.

With pressure mounting and the prospect of a third consecutive quarter-finals elimination looming, Frankfurt delivered. Massively.

Call it their Fedrico Macheda moment. Rewind back to the 2008-09 English Premier League season when Manchester United were trailing Liverpool (yes, Liverpool) at the top of the table towards the tail-end of the season. Hoping to avoid a third consecutive league defeat at home against Aston Villa, Sir Alex Ferguson called upon a fresh-faced Italian to help break the 2-2 deadlock. Cristiano Ronaldo had just scored the vital equalizer, but was about to be upstaged by someone of far less eminence. The 17-year-old Macheda struck gold on his debut – in the 90th minute, no less – guiding United to a 3-2 win and ultimately, the league title.

Frankfurt followed an eerily similar script on Wednesday. In the 66th minute Kerstin Garefrekes gave the club a lifeline with a header that leveled the aggregate score 1-1. Kahlert then rolled the dice, inserting Silvana Chojnowski in the 80th minute whilst leaving Jessica Landström on the bench. The 17-year-old has had a precocious start on Germany’s youth teams but has been plagued by back injuries. As fate would have it, Chojnowski knocked in the go-ahead goal…on her senior team debut…in the 89th minute. Garefrekes added another goal to confirm the victory and send Frankfurt through to the semi-finals in remarkably dramatic fashion.

Malmö’s Swedish compatriots Göteborg shared a similarly disappointing fate. The tournament debutantes defeated Arsenal with a late goal on Wednesday. It wasn’t enough to overcome the 3-1 deficit established in the first leg, however. Arsenal’s comfortable victory last week gave them considerable breathing room in what was a largely uneventful affair. There was a total of three shots on frame between both sides. Göteborg can take heart, though, as they’re guaranteed a place in next year’s Champions League by dint of finishing second in the 2011 Damallsvenskan season.

 

 

And all-time Champions League/UEFA Cup win percentages, if interested [W-D-L]:

Göteborg – 83% – 5-0-1 (first time participants)

Turbine Potsdam – 79% – 36-4-6

Lyon – 74% – 31-7-4

Umea – 69% – 45-10-10…did not qualify for this year’s tournament

Frankfurt – 68.9% – 40-8-10

Rossiyanka – 65% – 22-4-8

Malmö – 62% – 8-1-4

Arsenal – 56% – 35-12-15

Brondby – 54% – 28-5-19

Three Spring Friendlies Announced for Canada, New Umbro Kits & U-20 WWC Berth

Photo by the Canadian Soccer Association

International Friendlies

Three friendlies, including one at home, have been announced as a part of the Canadian Women’s National Team’s preparations for the 2012 London Olympics.

Canada will face Brazil on neutral grounds March 24 in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium, home of MLS’ New England Revolution. The venue seems like an improbable choice given the cost and the Revolution’s 4PM ET home opener against the Portland Timbers, but all has been confirmed.

Since July 2008, Canada and Brazil have drawn in their last five matches. On two of those occasions Canada claimed championship titles, first, as goal differentials at the 2010 Torneio Internacional Cidade de São Paulo were in Canada’s favour. It was this memorable stunner by Christine Sinclair that sealed the title. Then, at the 2011 Pan American Games, a 1-1 tie in regulation was finally settled in penalty kicks with Canada taking it 4-3.

Canada and Sweden will then meet March 31 at 2PM local time in Malmö, Sweden. This past week, Sweden finished in fourth place at the Algarve Cup in Portugal following a 4-0 loss to the USA. In Canada and Sweden’s most recent matches against one another, each side has won three. Their latest encounter was a 2-1 friendly win by Canada November 22, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Canada will host China May 30 at Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium in Moncton, New Brunswick, which is a potential host venue for the 2014 FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Canada/China friendly will kick-off at 8PM local time, 9PM ET. Ticket sales and other details will be announced in early April.

The match against China marks the first home friendly since September 30, 2010 when Canada posted a 3-1 victory at BMO Field in Toronto, which was also against China. Canada most recently played six competitive matches at home in Vancouver, British Columbia during the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.

As noted by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), it just so happens that all three opponents in this series of friendlies have been runner-ups at the FIFA Women’s World Cup (China – 1999, Sweden – 2003 and Brazil – 2007).

In between friendlies, a portion of the CanWNT will be in residency camp for two weeks in Vancouver from April 13 to 27. Players who have signed with clubs will remain with their respective teams while only unattached players will be in camp.

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US Downs Sweden, 4-0, for Third Place at Algarve Cup

US players after the third-place match

The US players following the match: roster players rest, reserves play

The third place match brought me back to the aptly name Beautiful View (Bela Vista) Stadium in Parchal. Originally scheduled for 10:15, I realized that it probably wasn’t going to start then when I arrived at 9:50, and the US players were just getting off their bus. The revised start time was 11 am, which gave me plenty of time to configure my wifi connection.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, and the connection remained flakey throughout the match, finally conking out for good about halfway through the second half. It was particularly annoying because whenever I lost the connection, I had to log back in from scratch, a process that generally took about five minutes even when it worked the first time, which was seldom. (Apologies to my Twitter followers who have heard this rant already.)

This also means that my focus was more on keeping the wifi working than on the match, so you’re not going to see a lot of in-depth analysis here. I’ll just make a few pithy comments:

- Alex Morgan is the real deal. Just look at the highlight reel and see how she finds ways of getting the ball past the goalkeeper.

- Nicole Barnhart is a solid goalkeeper.

- The US defense can thank Barney, their lucky stars, and Swedish finishing that they didn’t give up several goals. There were two clear times and several less clear occasions when Swedish forwards got one-on-one with Barnhart, but their finishing wasn’t nearly as deadly as Morgan’s as Barney managed to parry every chance.

I’ll insert two videos here: First, an AllWhiteKit exclusive interview with Christie Rampone. (There should have been an Alex Morgan clip as well, but somehow your intrepid reporter forgot to press the big red button on his Flipcam, so none of it got recorded.)

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Second, US Soccer’s highlight reel.

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After the interview with Christie, I hopped in my car and headed back east. I had the option of swinging by the Estadio Algarve but instead continued on and had a nice afternoon hike in the hills overlooking the river that divides Spain and Portugal. (Before this trip, I didn’t even realize that was what divided the two countries.) That was possibly a mistake as Germany-Japan proved to be a real thriller, with three goals scored in the final few minutes and Germany coming out on top.

In the morning I take the train back to Lisbon and spend a few days there before flying home. Thanks to AWK proprietress Jenna Pel for providing me with a platform, to USWNT’s press officer Aaron Heifetz for his help with interviews and information, and to all my Twitter followers, new and old, for their support. See you in the stadiums!

France Captures Cyprus Cup Title Against Canada

So much for revenge. France prevented Canada from claiming a third consecutive Cyprus Cup title on Monday. Sylvain Jamet recaps Les Bleues’ big 2-0 win.

Personnel

For the final, Bruno Bini kept the same team that defeated England 3-0 two days ago.

Starting XI: Bouhaddi, Franco, Renard, Meilleroux, Bompastor, Abily, Bussaglia, Le Sommer, Necib, Thiney, Delie

Canada used their usual midfield diamond formation in a 4-4-2.

Starting XI: McLeod, Wilkinson, Chapman, Sesselmann, Scott, Kyle, Schmidt, Sinclair, Tancredi, Julien

 

Report

The midfield battle – helped in part by France’s numerical advantage – was clearly one of the main reasons for the team’s victory today. Canada rarely got behind France’s defense and didn’t manage to use the flanks as often as French wingers Gaetane Thiney and Eugenie Le Sommer. Both players tracked back the whole game and prevented Canada’s full-backs from gaining ground in midfield. This enabled France to retain the ball and keep the four attacking players in prime positions to do damage.

Space was really at premium in midfield and there were no clear chances in the opening 15 minutes. Both teams did well to contain the opposition and looked to have done their homework going into the match.

The first clear chance came from a run down the left by Marie-Laure Delie. She was sent clear by Thiney after distributing a nice cutback to Bussaglia who proceeded to try her luck from 25 yards out. Shortly thereafter, Le Sommer found herself free in the area but a defender came in with a tackle before she could pull the trigger.

Canada finally found its first chance of the game. A cross from the left made headway, and it was cleared with difficulty. Another one followed from the right wing, but it was caught easily by Bouhaddi.

The first goal came at the half hour mark. Thiney won the ball back around the halfway line after tackling Desiree Scott. She then released Delie straightaway who ran between two defenders and pounded a shot into the top corner leaving McLeod with no chance.

The game stayed very tight until half time as both sides worked hard to prevent the creation of further chances.

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A Review and Preview of Current Tournament Action

A recurring midsummer night’s dream.

More like a nightmare for the USWNT. Monday’s group stage match against Japan played out in eerily similar fashion to that of the World Cup final. The U.S. adapted a more direct style of play and had plenty of chances to put the game on ice. Towards the second half, the match looked likely to end in the U.S.’s favor. But the breakthrough goal never came. The U.S. failed to get the better of goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto and a restrained Japanese backline. Japan remained faithful to its patient, possession-oriented style of play.  The Nadeshiko’s decisive goal predictably came from a late header off a set piece. The U.S. was undone by Japan’s disciplined, resourceful, precise play once again. (Highlights)

The USWNT will have a third crack at Japan before a possible reunion in London. Both teams are set to meet on Sunday, April 1 at the Kirin Cup in Sendai, Japan which is said to be all but sold out. Good thing ESPN scooped up the broadcasting rights as the match might be even more meaningful now.

 

Knocked out by the champions of the world.

“They should be role models for the world, the way they play.” Pia Sundhage did not let the sting of defeat diminish her praise for the world champions. As Kevin points out below, the loss set more dubious records for the U.S. The snapped shutout record is something worth lamenting over. The team had previously gone 57 matches without failing to score a goal. The U.S. now looks to claim third place in the tournament for the first time in eight years. They’ll have to get by Sweden, who has had the better of the USWNT in the last three meetings between the two sides.

 

Germany flattens Sweden en route to Algarve Cup final.

Sundhage’s anxiety (if she ever feels such a thing) should be put to rest if the U.S. faces the same Swedish side that got absolutely thrashed by Germany 4-0 on Monday (highlights). It was the most lopsided scoreline the series has ever produced since both teams first faced off back in 1991. (It was Sweden that ran out 4-0 winners that day.) So was Germany frighteningly good or was Sweden simply abject? Thomas Dennerby’s team was more inventive in the second half, but the team’s defense looked out of sorts. Sweden failed to contain Germany’s unrelenting waves of attacks. Celia Okoyino da Mbabi was practically unplayable on the day, claiming her first hat-trick at international level. It was Germany’s most cohesive performance of the tournament. The side will meet Japan on Wednesday in white hot form. Silvia Neid will undoubtedly be pleased.

 

Redemption at stake versus Japan.

This is the Germany many were expecting to win a third straight World Cup on home soil. It’s a new-look side on two counts: Neid has called upon new (and in some cases old) faces to replace retirees and current squad members nursing injuries. But this Germany side is also devoid of the self-conscious play that blighted it last summer. Germany now has the chance to do what the U.S. couldn’t. The team can begin to exorcise its demons by getting one back against Japan. With no major tournament until Euro 2013, Wednesday’s match could be a long-lasting benchmark for Germany.

 

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One side of Algarve Stadium with the Moon

A Bad Day at the Estádio Algarve

One side of Algarve Stadium with the Moon

Estádio Algarve: beautiful but deadly

The Estádio Algarve dropped from my list of favorite places even before the US lost to Japan (again) there. Now, from a distance it looks beautiful – stunning, even. Over the side bleachers are two canopies that can be seen for kilometers and make the stadium look as if it is about to take flight at any moment.

The details are another matter. We had to drive around Robin Hood’s barn to find parking. Then we had to walk around the barn again (well, actually, a remarkably large gully) to get to the bridge accessway. then take a roundabout route to the stadium entrance itself, where we got frisked and my Italian friend had to empty his backpack. (This was miles ahead of any security at any of the other venues, where pretty much anyone could just walk in unchallenged.) To top it all off, I had had a big breakfast and hadn’t bothered with lunch, expecting that I could get a snack at the stadium. However, there was no food available at all, the first venue of all the ones I’d visited – including the rather run-down stadium in Ferreiras where the team practiced – where this was the case.

Internet access wasn’t forthcoming, either: there was the official stadium wifi, which required a login, and some commercial wifi, which required I don’t know what because it was in Portuguese. However, toward the end of halftime I actually managed to hack into the stadium wifi by trying to guess the username-password combination. Given that username=estadio and password=algarve got me in, they weren’t too concerned about protecting their wifi account.

Okay, enough ranting. It was another beautiful day in the Algarve, and the attendance at this match was, not surprisingly, the best of any I’d been to, probably 800 or more. (I had originally thought more like 500, but my Italian friend counted 150 at the second match, and there were easily five times as many at US-Japan.)

The US seemed to have slightly the better of play in the first half, but couldn’t capitalize, which rather put me in mind of the World Cup Final. It was the Alex Morgan show throughout: She shot high in the tenth minute, had what looked like a goal shortly thereafter off a header from Abby Wambach but there was an offsides call. The best chance of the match for the US came in the 26th minute when Alex picked up a long ball and got just past her defender but sent her shot off the right post. Finally, there was a good back-and-forth between Alex and Abby in the box in the 45th minute, but the ball was cleared away from Abby right in front of goal before she could shoot.

The US made multiple substitutions at the half: Rapinoe for Cheney, Cox for O’Hara, and O’Reilly for Rodriguez. Previously in this tournament the second-half subs had galvanized the US, but it was less in evidence today. If anything, the match was more even in the second half than in the first, when the US had the better chances.

Around the 64th minute, Japan put in three substitutions and went to a more offensive format, presumably since they needed a win rather than a draw to make it to the championship.

Twenty minutes later, it pays off as sub Takase puts in a bullet header off a corner kick that looked to be too far out to be dangerous. Just like that, the Japanese team is filled with confidence, and the US is nervous bordering on desperate. The best remaining chance for the US is a header by Boxx that she nods down, but it bounces over the bar. Soon after, the whistle blows, and history is made in multiple respects: it’s the first time ever that the US has lost to Japan (the WWC Final is officially a draw), the first time since November 2008 that the US is shut out, and the first time since 2004 that the US isn’t in the Algarve Cup Final. It’s certainly harder to look upon the WWC Final as an upset now. But we’ll see what happens at the Olympics.

Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland

Since we were there already, we figured we’d stick around for the second half of the doubleheader, a Group C match with host Portugal facing the Republic of Ireland. It was nice in a way to just sit back and watch a match you don’t give a darn about. Portugal was somewhat the better team, largely on the strength of one player: Ana Borges. She’s lightning fast and was clearly the best player on either team. Ninety percent of Portugal’s offensive strategy was to send a long ball over the defense and hope Borges could run onto it. They sometimes led her by so much it was amazing she did manage to catch up to it, but she generally did. My Italian friend and I were not at all surprised to see her score and then score again – in fact, he told me shortly after the first goal, “She’s going to score another one.” The result was a 2-1 win for Portugal However, a win by Wales in the other match kept Portugal from topping Group C. You can see all three goals here and get some idea of what a greyhound Borges is.

The Final Day

Thanks to Aaron Heifetz of US Soccer, I have the schedule of the final matches. All of them are at 10:15 am except for the championship, which is at 1:10 pm in order to accommodate Japanese television.

Hungary-Ireland @ Loulé
Portugal-China @ Algarve Stadium
Wales-Norway @ Quarteira
Iceland-Denmark @ Ferreiras
Sweden-USA @ Parchal
Germany-Japan @ Algarve Stadium

I plan on attending the US match, of course. We’ll see about Germany-Japan.

France Finish Off England In Cyprus Cup Group Stage and More

The last time France and England met, penalty kicks were required to separate the two sides. Sunday’s affair in Cyprus was far less contentious, however. Sylvain Jamet returns to recount the last marquee match-up of the 2012 Cyprus Cup group stage.

 

As per usual, Bruno Bini announced his line-up a day before the game. There were no surprises. The only question mark was goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi who passed a fitness test in the morning. Captain Sandrine Soubeyrand is still injured and was therefore unavailable. Marina Makanza was also left on the bench.

It was the usual 4-2-3-1 for France: Bouhaddi, Franco, Renard, Meilleroux, Bompastor, Abily, Bussaglia, Le Sommer, Necib, Thiney, Delie.

 

England’s starting XI was less easy to predict due to squad rotation and uncertainty from injuries. The attacking four appeared to be the only shoo-in’s. When the team sheet duly arrived, I could only place seven players and wondered where the other four would turn up on the pitch. Karen Bardsley was selected while Rachel Unitt and Fara Williams were not. Sophie Bradley, Rachel Brown, Siobhan Chamberlain and Sue Smith were the other players left off.

England lined up with the traditional 4-3-3 with Bardsley, A. Scott, Bassett, Stoney, Houghton, Asante, J. Scott, K. Smith, Carney, E. White, and Clarke. This meant there were quite a few surprises as Laura Bassett has played many games in midfield for England and Steph Houghton never plays a left-back for her club.

 

France came out on top 3-0. Where was the game won or lost? Credit must go to France’s defense. Ellen White did not get much of a sniff of a chance on goal. Les Bleues’ ball retention and patient build-up play was a bit better than England’s, who stuck with a more direct approach. Both sides tried to keep the ball whenever possible. A vertical pass from the English defense to the forwards was a regular option, but those balls were dealt with quite comfortably by Renard and Meilleroux.

The game was a bruising encounter. It was much more physical than the World Cup quarterfinal as both teams put in strong challenges that more than deserved a yellow card. Something that I did not expect was the number of fouls and crunching challenges made by France. They earned a few bookings for their trouble and left a few bruises on players like Alex Scott and Kelly Smith. Those tackles were not nice to see. Some were late, others were strong. It looked as if the French team anticipated a very hard physical battle.

As expected, the midfield area was extremely congested with both sides denying space and time to the opposition whenever possible. The main difference is France managed to play through the midfield at times with its more technical players while England tried to bypass it with direct football. Fara Williams was introduced for Anita Asante at half-time to help solve that problem, but to no avail.

The three goals were quite lovely. Louisa Necib struck gold with a magnificent volley following a poor defensive clearance. She aimed for the top corner and converted with grace and skill. The second goal was a mix of class, movement, and luck. Franco crossed the ball for Delie to meet and Bardsley unfortunately let the ball slip between her legs. The third was created by Elodie Thomis, who went speeding down the wing for a cross that wasn’t cleared far enough. Gaetane Thiney smashed it in from 12 yards away.

 

Elsewhere

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Algarve Cup Competition Day Two: Japan-Denmark and US-Norway

Bela Vista Stadium, Parchal, Lagoa, Portugal

The aptly named Bela Vista Stadium, with Pia Sundhage (barely visible) in attendance

Never could get Internet access at the Japan-Denmark stadium, so I took notes for my own purposes, which I will clean up somewhat and add below.

Arrived at the well-hidden but well-named Bela Vista stadium in Parchal, Lagoa, after several attempts to find the right turn-off. Even asked for directions to the stadium from someone about four blocks away, and she didn’t know where it was. Fortunately, I soon saw the lights. Parking was a bit of a challenge, but I finally found a spot and made it inside just before the teams marched onto the field.

Noted as I picked my seat in the topmost row that Pia Sundhage was sitting about a dozen seats to my left. A couple hundred in attendance, I think, including at least two dogs. Much better cameras in evidence than at US-Denmark, with a full suite at field level, and we actually have a scoreboard this time, though it only shows the score and the time in whole minutes.

The weather is gorgeous again, a fair number of clouds, but the sun is shining on the field. Rather breezy: the flags lined up at the north end of the field are fluttering vigorously

Spent the first fifteen minutes trying to set up wireless internet access, without success, so I’ve been a bit distracted. My impression is that Denmark had the better of the play early, but Japan has been evening things up.

Japan a surprisingly physical team, and the referee is letting them play, much to the indignation of the Denmark coach and fans.

Denmark has a chance in the 39th minute when #10 beats her defender down the right flank. But another Japan defender comes along to help, and that’s enough to get the ball out of there. In the 43rd minute, Japan puts on some strong forward pressure and creates some scary moments, but Denmark escapes. There’s only a little first half stoppage time.

Five minutes into the second half Japan scores when #10 sends a low cross in from the right, and #20 slides to get a foot on it just enough to deflect it past the goalkeeper.

Minute 63: Pia Sundhage has left the building.

Near goal in JPN-DEN match

Japan just misses on a shot

In the 86th minute, Japan’s #5 just misses wide left after a turnover and breakaway.

Japan has been pressuring backpasses to the goalkeeper throughout the match, and it finally pays off in second half stoppage time when two Japanese players converge on the goalkeeper as she tries to clear a backpass. She hits it right off one of the forwards, who collects it and puts it away for an easy score. Result: Japan 2, Denmark 0.

Japan played a strong possession game and did just enough to get past Denmark, who had few real chances during the match. I can’t see Hope Solo and the US defense being flustered by Japanese forwards, though.

To Lagos for US-Norway

I bail out the moment the early match is over and head back to Lagos for today’s US game. Turns out, though, that it’s only about 15 kilometers away, and I’m there with about half-an-hour to spare. Aaron Heifetz generously gives me my own lineup sheet this time, so I don’t have to stand over him and copy down names.

Again the US has a tough time in the first half but improves in the second. Pia and players in post-game interviews talk about the difficulty in getting through Norway’s five midfielders and the need to be patient. Best chance of the first half might be when Alex Morgan gets the ball near midfield and outruns three defenders, but her shot goes wide.

The US makes three subs to start the second half: Buehler for Rampone, Mitts for LePeilbet, and Rapinoe for Heath. Early on it seems to give Norway a spark more than the US, as they get a couple of good chances against US breakdowns: a 4-on-3 attack that ends in a shot that Solo blocks, and Buehler getting completely outmaneuvered on the right corner but Solo saves again.

Wambach saves the day a few minutes later as Heather Mitts sends in a beautiful long cross from her position on the right to the left side of the box. Abby takes a left-footed shot that goes off the right post, then back to the left and in. Norway has a couple of dangerous opportunities a few minutes later, but Becky Sauerbrunn cleans up both of them.

In an interesting twist, former supersub Morgan is subbed out for Sydney Leroux. This pays off in the 81st minute in a beautiful sequence: Buehler sends a beautifully placed long ball from before midfield over to Amy Rodriguez deep on the left side. A-Rod goes to the end line and then cuts back against her defender enough to get room to send in a high cross that Leroux, doing her Abby Wambach impression, jumps up and heads in for the US’s second goal.

It’s a good thing she does, too, as with seconds left in stoppage time Norway slips behind the US defense near the left post and squeezes a ball between the post and Hope Solo to get one back. The whistle blows moments after the ensuing kickoff, leaving the US with a 2-1 win.

I could say a few things about the game, but the players and Pia did better than I could in their post-game interviews, so I’ll just share those.

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Afterwards

My original plan had been to skedaddle out of Lagos and head to Ferreiras to take in a third match on the day, Wales versus the Republic of Ireland. My apologies to all you Wales and Ireland fans out there, but particularly after sticking around for half an hour for interviews, I decided to spend the evening playing tourist in Lagos. I can’t say I regret it: I had a nice walk around the city walls and had dinner at a great restaurant with the best french onion soup I’ve had in my life.

Not sure if I’ll attend another practice this weekend – it was fun at the one yesterday, but I don’t know how much point there is in returning. But of course I’ll be at Monday’s US-Japan game, which is being played right here in Faro – I’ve gone right past the stadium three times already on my way west.