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.

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