Algarve Cup Review: How did the top six do?

1st – Spain

Unbeaten over the four matches, Spain were the first team to win the Algarve Cup on their debut since the tournament’s inception in 1994 with La Roja’s Irene Paredes also scooping the best player award.

Starting at they meant to go on, Spain kicked the tournament off with a win against Japan, the team cruising from the off against the former World Champions. Despite a wobble at the end against Nadeshiko, Spain rode out the storm to claim all three points before putting the shoes to Norway in their next match, the game all but over in the first-half. All but guaranteed a spot in the final, La Roja dropped their only points of the competition against a resolute Iceland side and marked the only time they failed to score in Portugal. In the final against the holders, Canada, the Spaniards opened the scoring in fifth minute courtesy of a rocket from Leila Ouahabi El Ouahabi. Although the final wasn’t a goal fest it was a canny win for Jorge Vilda’s side.

Always bound to score goals, possession is key for Spain, the team prone to looking suspect when forced to defend but the side have been cruising so far this year and already having silverware in the bag will only give them more confidence going into the Euros.

2nd – Canada

2016 Champions, Canada came into the tournament in transition, the team full of fresh faces and young players keen to impress. Despite dominating in their first match against Denmark, John Herdman’s team were forced to rely on stalwart, Christine Sinclair for the deceive moment. The only goal of the game coming at the death after the Canucks had come close on numerous occasions, the narrow win mirrored in their second group game against Russia, the North Americans once more cruising and up two goals into the first half hour. A strong rally from Russia saw them reduce the deficit although the Golden Eagles couldn’t find a second, nor could Canada find a third to put the tie to bed.

Their problems converting chances repeated in their final group game, as they faced a resolute home side unwilling to ship any more goals in the group, the problem persisted into the final and the Canucks were unable to best Sandra Paños. There is no question over the pedigree of the squad and the tournament experience will be huge for the younger players called up but there is still much ground that needs to be made before France 2019 for Canada.

3rd – Denmark

A late 1-0 loss to Canada the only blemish on Denmark’s tournament record for 2017, the resilience showed by Nils Nielsen’s side seen in the first and last matches played by the Danes in Portugal. Doing well to get over the sting of a 90th minute loss, the Red and Whites came out firing against Portugal and had the game wrapped up inside of the first-half, the team able to take their foot off of the gas after the break. In their match against Russia, Denmark put six past their opposition for the second time on the bounce, the Bears stronger in defence then their previous opponents, but when the Danes found the way to unlock the flood gates the goals began to pour.

Their third-place play-off – the sixth time they’ve been in the running for bronze – was much more like the Canada game with their opposition dominating for the majority of the game but a lack of second goal kept the Danes in the match. Resilience paid off for the Scandinavians when Pernille Harder snatched an equaliser ten minutes from time, the goal enough to rock the Aussies and take the match to penalties. The only game at the tournament to go to spot-kicks, the wind was blowing very much in Denmark’s favour as they pulled off a shock that no one could have predicted at half-time and went home with a medal for the seventh time in their history. Harder’s goal her fourth of the tournament, enough to make her joint top goalscorer with Japan’s Kumi Yokoyama.

Still unfavourited for Holland, expected to finish third in their group, Denmark’s ability to withstand pressure and fight until the last may yet see them through in Holland.

4th – Australia

Like their non-European counterparts in Portugal, Australia are a side in transition, with Alen Stajcic opting to cap a number of younger players, an inability to take their chances the Matildas’ Achilles heel.

Defensively resolute and able to overrun most of their opposition, the Matildas failed to keep a clean-sheet at the Algarve and that was possibly their undoing. They kicked off the tournament with 1-0 loss to Sweden – another side unable to convert their chances as often as they should – before squeezing past the Netherlands 3-2, the Aussies well up but left to rock after conceding two goals in four minutes.

Their third group game was the only time fans got to see Oz come from behind, the team once again in the ascendancy were surprisingly pegged back by a goal from Wang Shanshan, China only needing one chance. An equaliser from tournament revelation, Emily Gielnik got the ball rolling for the Matildas and Ellie Carpenter’s first international goal was enough to put Australia into the third-place play-off. Once again, the dominant team, Kyah Simon’s first-half goal should have been the one to rench open the floodgates but the goals refused to come for the Matildas as they fluffed chance after chance, confidence taking a knock after Denmark’s late equaliser. It was more penalty misery for Australia as both Clare Polkinghorne and Sam Kerr saw their spot kicks saved to relegate Oz to fourth.

Much like Canada, if the team can just put their chances away, they’ll be a forced to be reckoned with in world football.

5th – Netherlands

A side slowly picking up steam, Holland will take great heart form their performances and wins in Portugal. Renate Jansen opened the scoring at the tournament when she fired one past Zhao Lina less than fifteen minutes into their first match against China. Overrun by Australia, the Dutch came back well late in the game to make it a nervous sprint to the finish line for the Matildas but failed to find a vital third, equalising goal. A solid second-half against a Sweden team out of ideas culminated in a winning penalty from Mandy van den Berg nine minutes from time.

With the team being regularly rotated and players rested throughout the tournament, Serina Wiegman always had firepower on the bench, the Dutch’s ability to score goals vital in their winning ways. Two goals to the good inside of twenty minutes against Japan in their placement match, Holland were pegged back almost instantaneously by joint top goalscorer, Yokoyama. Sheila van den Bulk’s own goal late in the second-half gifted Japan parity before Rumi Utsugi’s ownie at the other end of the pitch – forced by the reliable brilliance of Vivianne Miedema – sealed the tie for the Netherlands, the net left to ripple two minutes into stoppage time, spot kicks avoided.

With home pressure on their shoulders in July it’s hard to predict how Holland will fare at the Euros, but this year the side have proved they’re more than capable of scoring goals and finding wins no matter how late in the game and are not to be written off.

6th – Japan

A far cry from the team that won the 2011 World Cup, Asako Takakura has been tasked with rebuilding the team, the personnel much changed from the Sasaki era.

Nadeshiko kicked the tournament off in rather unspectacular fashion, looking like a team without an identity for the majority of their match against Spain, Japan only kept in the match by La Roja’s inability to get a clean shot away. Two goals down and barely holding it together a solo goal from Yokoyama was the shot in the arm Japan needed, the team suddenly sparking into life to press and work the untested Spanish defence that immediately looked shaky. With less than ten minutes to find an equaliser, time quickly ran out for Japan but they were finally showing signs of life once more.

Still riding high from Yokoyama’s late goal against Spain, Japan charged head-first into their second group match against Iceland, Yui Hasegawa hitting the opposition for two in just over fifteen minutes. Iceland responded well and kept their opposition out for the rest of the game, the effort required to reopen the Icelandic defence too much for Japan who had already won the game before the break. Against Norway is was 23-year-old Yokoyama that was the hero for Nadeshiko, her second-half brace once more sparking the team into life.

In their placement match against the Netherlands, Japan were again on the back foot, two goals down before the twentieth minute. But with a keen reliability, Yokoyama got her side right back into the game seconds after Lieke Martens had made it two, the goal slicing the deficit in half. Sheila van den Bulk’s own goal looked to be sending the tie to penalties before Rumi Utsugi got the final touch on Miedema’s effort to push Japan down to sixth.

It almost seems erroneous to refer to the Japan team as former World Champions as the team currently taking to the pitch is so far removed from the team of yesterday. The team wheezed and spluttered at points, their engine begging to turn over, the team finding their sparkle before the fuse burned out once more. The key for Takakura is consistency, Nadeshiko very much in danger of slipping up at the Asia Cup next year and missing out on a place at the 2019 World Cup.