US Women: Group Play in Algarve Cup to Open on Leap Day


Algarve Cup Group Preview

By Kara McDermott


The Algarve Cup kicks off on Wednesday February 29 and promises to highlight some of the best talent on the women’s soccer scene. The top three teams in the world (USA, Germany and Japan, respectively) are coming out to play in the South Portugal sun.

The Algarve Cup is not structured like a traditional tournament, the top teams from Groups A and B go immediately to the cup championship. No team gets a second chance. Group A will be comprised of Germany, China PR, Sweden and Iceland. Group B will boast the United States, Japan, Sweden and Denmark. To combat a rigorous schedule, the tournament allows teams six subs per game – double the amount of a standard FIFA tournament.

Germany is still reeling from the double-whammy of their World Cup performance. After advancing first out of a difficult group, they dropped a goal to Japan in the quarterfinals, ending their run in front of a home crowd a step before qualifying for the Olympics. The Algarve Cup may seem like paltry consolation, but they will be looking to add a sibling for their previous victory in 2006. Their most recent placement was second in 2010 as they did not play in 2011.

This last July notwithstanding, Germany is a soccer super power currently with back-to-back World Cup championships in 2003 and 2007 and an absolute stranglehold on the UEFA European Championships since 1995.

China PR enjoyed dominance on the world stage in the late 1990s, but has yet to rise in the ranks of competition in the new millennium. After losing to the Americans on Brandi Chastain’s final penalty kick in the legendary 1999 final, they have declined considerably. They have not qualified for a World Cup since 2007 where they were knocked out in the quarterfinals and were sent home at the same point in the last Olympics of 2008.

The Algarve Cup is a chance for the Chinese, the lowest ranked team of the top two groups, to have greater exposure to international competition and to build their game against the playing styles of the Europeans and Americans. Last year they failed to glean any points in Group B, but each score line was a margin of only one goal.

Iceland was a surprise last year, coming out of seemingly nowhere to advance first out of their group against powerful opponents such as Sweden and Denmark to play the US in the finals. They took two quick goals off of the Americans in the 26th and 28th minute to hold a brief lead before eventually falling 2-4. This was the first time that Iceland had placed in the top four of the tournament and was especially impressive for a team that has never qualified for the World Cup or Olympics.

Die hard American fans are probably not too fond of fifth-ranked Sweden, who beat the US in group stage in the last World Cup to advance first out of the group. Their journey to an eventual bronze medal qualified them for the upcoming Summer Games, the only team from Group A to do so. They are the third most successful team in Algarve Cup history behind the US and Norway with three wins (1995, 2001, 2009) and most recently a fourth place finish last year.

Group A Predictions
Germany is currently second in the world has had a consistent presence at the top of the soccer heap. Advancing first out of their group over Sweden will certainly send a message about current allocation and qualifying practices for UEFA teams in the Olympics. Expect to see these two teams in a tough battle.

Key match: Germany vs. Sweden, March 5th


Japan has burst onto the world stage in decisive fashion in the last few years, culminating in their World Cup victory this last summer over the American soccer machine. Their invitation to the 2012 Algarve Cup marks only the second time they have played in this tournament. Just last year, the Japanese took third, aided in large part by a player well on her way to becoming a legend, Homare Sawa who received the award for most valuable player of the tournament

Denmark is a long-time veteran of Algarve, one of only four teams that have played every year since the Cup’s inception in 1994. However the Danes have yet to climb to the top of that elusive pedestal, instead taking second a total of five times. The US ensured two of these finishes by beating Denmark in back-to-back finals in 2007 and 2008. They are currently ranked just below Norway at 12th.

Norway, like Denmark, has been a fixture of every Algarve Cup. The storied 1990s rivalry between Norway and the US certainly played out on the Algarve stage. The Nordic conquerors came out on top of a 1-0 final with the US in 1994 – the first time the tournament was played. They went on to win an additional three times by 1998.

Their success has waned in recent years though. They have not played in a final since 2004 and had their worst finish in 2009 by coming in 9th. Elsewhere they have also struggled: after winning the World Cup in 1995 they have failed to place higher than fourth. And again, they were victorious in the 2000 Olympics but didn’t even qualify for the next Games, returning in 2008 to be sent home in the quarterfinals.

Group B Predictions
It will be a tough group for the Americans, but they have the depth and fitness to take top group honors, though probably not by the same blow-out margins that were seen in Olympic Qualifying. If Japan continues their current momentum, they should be a good challenge to the US.

Key Match: US vs. Japan, March 5th


Hungary, Portugal, Wales and the Republic of Ireland will round out the competition in Group C. Of these, only the home team Portugal has ever seen action in the two groups of death, but has never finished higher than 5th in 1994. The home team has naturally played in every Cup, and after them the most experienced team is Wales. Hungary will be playing in their first Algarve Cup.

See Also:
Algarve Presents More than a Scenic Vacation for American Women


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