Last minute preparations done, 12 teams lined up throughout the day to get in vital match time ahead of various World Cup qualification matches later in the year, the first round of matches throwing up a surprise or two.
Much like the teams in Group B, the four sides in Group A took to the pitches in Larnaca where they would play all three of their scheduled matches, their home for the day the Antonis Papadopoulos.
In the first match of the day, Finland took on Wales, the Nordic side rusty with nine of their starting XI in pre-season but still it was the Pearl Owls who attacked and had the better of it in the first half. Defensive resilience from Wales enough to see them make it to half-time without having shipped a goal, the team markedly improved after the break, the Dragons the one to press the issue after the restart. Having just come close from a set-piece, Kayleigh Green provided a moment of magic when she spotted Tinja-Riikka Korpela off of her line, her lob judged to perfection to give Wales the lead. Though they finished back on the front foot, Finland still struggled to break down the savvy Welsh defence, Green’s lone strike enough for all three points.
Next it was the turn of Italy and Switzerland, the Azzurre a sight to behold, the team instantly began running circles around their opposition, Barbara Bonansea’s fourth minute goal an early punctuation mark. Far from slowing down after taking the lead, Italy continued to press and work their opposition, their second goal arriving before half-time when Valentina Bergamaschi took off running. Riding challenges from both Ramona Bachmann and Vanesa Bernauer, the young Italian remained focus on the task at hand, sprinting forward before firing the ball low into the far corner. Much like the previous Group A match, the “away” team came out strongly for the second half, but clearly struggling to find a clean attacking rhythm all the way through, La Nati soon fell away and Italy began to dominate once more. Totalling four strong penalty shouts in the second half, the Azzurre were granted one late in the day, Cristiana Girelli’s 12-yard strike beating Gaëlle Thalmann with ease, the attacker having finally got her goal, the match clearly won at 3-0.
In the first match of the day in the group goals from Kateřina Svitková and Tereza Kožárová gave the Czech Republic an early lead over Belgium. Though the Red Flames were able to pull one back late in the day through a Tine De Caigny header, it was too little too late and they fell to an first day 2-1 defeat.
Two teams who are fast getting to know each other, Spain took to the pitch against Austria for the third time in eight months, La Roja the victors for the second time on the bounce, their 2-0 not as comfortable as their 4-0 in Palma. Having been thoroughly humbled by the same opposition at the end of last year in World Cup qualification, Austria put in a better show in Larnaca but still found two mistakes punished by the second-highest ranked team at the tournament. A clean side-footed finish from Olga García was enough to give Spain the lead at the break, a scrappy goal from Mari Paz after the hour sealed the tie to put La Roja in pole position in the group.
In the only group not to contain all European teams, South Africa were held scoreless by Slovakia in Paralimni before Hungary clashed with the only AFC team represented at the tournament. Only having just fallen from the FIFA top ten in December, Korea DRP eventually made their class count against a Hungary team ranked 43rd in the world. Frustrated over the first half and scoreless at the break, the breakthrough came through Kim Jun-Mi just before the hour, prompting more attacking football from the Magyars, the Hungarians close to an equaliser but not able to find a clinical touch. As the match wore down it was Korea DPR who found another, Jun-Mi’s second at the death enough to ensure a firm 2-0 win for the Asian nation.