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.