In women’s football, the third-most important contest in international play behind the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics is the Algarve Cup. An invitation-only tournament, only the biggest names in women’s world football earn the right to contest one of the richest honors in the game in Portugal. The USA are the only team to secure a special double of winning the Algarve and FIFA Women’s World Cups. However, they won’t be taking part and neither will runner-up France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan, North Korea, China and Australia, among other teams.
So this year’s Algarve Cup, which doubles as a tune-up tournament to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, consists of eight teams, two of which have a strong chance of winning the chocolates on Mar. 9. Of course, New Zealand has also punched their ticket to Rio, but they won’t be the team that lifts the trophy. At The Stoppage Time, we are calling for a final between Canada and the Olympic hosts Brazil, with the Canaries prevailing…on penalties. Time for two sets of power rankings previewing the 2016 Algarve Cup.
John Herdman‘s Canada are projected to claim victory in the Algarve Cup Group of Death, where all four teams are among the Top 30 in the world. After qualifying for Rio 2016, the Big Red is ready to bounce back from a tough 2-0 loss to the USWNT. Forward Christine Sinclair (161 goals, 236 caps), forward Melissa Tancredi (25 goals, 113 appearances), midfielder Diana Matheson (17 goals, 176 caps), midfielder Sophie Schmidt (16 goals, 142 caps), midfielder Desiree Scott (103 caps), defender Rhian Wilkinson (170 caps) and their ace, West Virginia’s very own Kadeisha Buchanan (53 caps, FIFPro First XI) are ready to get back in the saddle and deliver.
Nils Nielsen‘s Denmark are one of three teams in Group A who failed to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. A revamped side full of youth will steer the Danish Dynamite as they look to stick it to the Canadians. Notable players to watch include midfielder Johanna Rasmussen (35 goals, 126 caps), forward Sanne Troelsgaard Nielsen (19 goals, 77 caps), defender Theresa Nielsen (78 caps) and midfielder Pernille Harder (27 goals, 58 caps).
Freyr Alexandersson‘s Iceland have never qualified for a FIFA Women’s World Cup but their progress has made them a Top 20 side worldwide. Notable players include Portland Thorns midfielder Dagný Brynjarsdóttir (14 goals, 57 caps), Liverpool midfielder Katrín Ómarsdóttir (10 goals, 64 caps), forward Margrét Lára Viðarsdóttir (71 goals, 94 caps), captain/midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir (16 goals, 78 caps), midfielder Rakel Hönnudóttir (65 caps) and forward Hólmfríður Magnúsdóttir (33 goals, 93 caps).
Unlike their male counterparts, Ives Semeeis‘s Belgian Red Flames would get slaughtered by the likes of the USA, despite being ranked 28th in the world. Nonetheless, Belgium, whose bulk of roster hail from Anderlecht and Standard Liege, has some youth that could be key. Top players to watch include captain/forward Alice Zeler (25 goals, 70 caps), forward Tessa Wullaert (25 goals, 37 caps), midfielder Davina Philtjens (39 caps), defender Heleen Jacques (55 caps), defender Janice Cayman (eight goals, 47 caps) and defender Maud Coutereeis (48 caps).
Vadão‘s Brazil are the favorites to win the Algarve Cup at the expense of others teams taking part in other tournaments across the globe. After a disappointing FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Female Canaries are hopeful that the home field advantage can be substantial. They will use the Algarve as a proving ground for the Games. With 100 goals in 102 appearances, captain and midfielder Marta is ready to get to work.
And Marta’s got a strong supporting cast in Paris Saint Germain forward Cristiane (81 goals, 117 appearances), the ageless midfielder Formiga (24 goals, 144 caps), Montpelier striker Andressa Alves (14 goals, 52 caps), the Houston Dash tandem of defender Poliana and Andressinha, Orlando Pride‘s Monica, PSG defender Erika (10 goals, 52 caps), and defender Fabiana (69 caps). Look for Brazil to turn it up and flex its muscles in the Algarve.
2. New Zealand
In New Zealand, when you talk about women’s sports, you talk about netball in field hockey, but not the Football Ferns under manager Tony Readings. The pride of Oceania, the Football Ferns have been a constant fixture on the world stage since 2007 and are ready to test some of the European sides and put on a strong showing against Brazil on Mar. 2. Defender/captain Abby Erceg (119 caps) is the leader on this team, who feature some A-League talent in Melbourne City defender Rebekah Stott (45 goals) and Brisbane Roar midfielder Kirsty Yallop.
Other key players include New Zealand’s top goalscorer, USV Jena forward Amber Hearn (48 goals, 105 caps), FC Zurich midfielder Katie Duncan (108 caps), USV Jena defender Ria Percival (11 goals, 109 caps), Liverpool forward Rosie White (14 goals, 74 caps) and defender Ali Riley (98 caps).
Elena Fomina‘s Russia have played in the FIFA Women’s World Cup before (1999, 2003) and are a four-time European Champion (1996, 1997, 2001, 2009). But since 2003, Russia has failed to return to the world stage and will use this Algarve Cup to get back to relevance. Notable players for Russia include forward Ekaterina Pantyukhina, defender Ksenia Tsybutovich and midfielder Elena Terekhova.
The hosts, Francisco Neto‘s Portugal, are miles behind the men in terms of being a power in Europe and in the women’s fame. Nonetheless, they will hope to put on a strong showing and perhaps channel a little mojo from a certain little-known countryman by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. You may have known the name, from somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, and so on and so forth. If not, you are either new to the sport or, even worse, a Lionel Messi fan.
Key players include Chelsea striker Ana Borges (nine goals, 75 caps), captain/midfielder Claudia Neto (nine goals, 86 caps), Chicago Red Stars midfielder Amanda DaCosta (who is actually from Katonah, New York and a graduate of Florida State), Atletico Madrid defender Rita Fontemanha, midfielder Dolores Silva (61 caps, seven goals), defender Carole Costa (six goals, 65 caps) and defender Silvia Rebelo (57 caps).