March 7, 2011

US Defeats Finland; Will Meet Iceland in Algarve Final

The USWNT made it three straight in group play, shutting out Finland by a 4-0 margin. The US, which already had Group A clinched, will now meet Group B winner Iceland in Wednesday's final.

Coach Pia Sundhage showed little tendency for change, sending eight starters out for the third straight match. Tobin Heath got her first start at Algarve in the midfield and Sundhage went with the forward tandem of Alex Morgan and Lauren Cheney for the first time in the tournament.

The US opened the scoring in just the eighth minute. A Carli Lloyd corner kick found Shannon Boxx, who was just able to get over the Finnish defender to head it solidly on frame. Goalkeeper Minna Meriluoto couldn't quite react quick enough and it was 1-0.

Just a few minutes later, it was Lloyd scoring one herself. After a turnover in the midfield by Finland, Tobin Heath was able to outmanoeuvre two defenders in the box and send the ball square to Lloyd, who buried it in the left side of the net from 15 yards out.

Alex Morgan got on the board right before intermission. She did a wonderful job of chesting down Ali Krieger's long distance serve into the penalty area and then finished with the outside of her left foot from six yards out, just beyond Meriluoto's reach. Morgan added another in the second half, knocking in her own rebound following a Meriluoto save and some shabby clearing by the Finnish defense.

The US outshot Finland by 24-1 margin and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart was rarely tested. They will return to the Algarve Cup final, which they won last year over Germany. This year's opponent will be Iceland.

Iceland 1, Denmark 0

Iceland made it a perfect run through Group B with a 1-0 shutout victory over Denmark. It marks the first time that Iceland has reached the championship match of the event.

After a scoreless first half, it looked as though Denmark would strike first. They were awarded a penalty, but Line Røddik Hansen's shot was stopped by Iceland's keeper, Thóra Helgadóttir. After that, Denmark hit the bar off of a corner kick, but still could not score. Iceland's counterattack produced a goal by Dóra Larúsdóttir.

Japan 1, Norway 0

Yuki Nagasato's second half goal led Japan to a 1-0 win over Norway. Ayumi Kaihori got the shutout for Japan.

Japan's victory in the battle for 2nd place in Group A means they will play Sweden in the match for 3rd/4th place on Wednesday. Norway will meet Denmark in the 5th/6th place match.

Sweden 1, China 0

Lotta Schelin's goal pushed Sweden into second place in Group C, as Sweden defeated China 1-0. There was some dispute as to whether Schelin was offside for the goal, but the goal was not called back. Schelin had come in as a second half substitution for Jessica Landström.

For Sweden, the victory avenged a loss to China earlier this year at the Four Nations Tournament. Hedvig Lindahl posted the shutout for Sweden.

Portugal 1, Romania 1

A late goal thwarted Portugal's chances to win Group C, as they played to a 1-1 tie with Romania.

Edite Fernandes put Portugal in front 1-0 late in the first half. But Stefania Vatafu evened the match in the final 10 minutes, forcing the draw. Andreea Corduneanu received a second yellow card late in the proceedings, but it was too late for Portugal to take advantage. Plaudits were given to Neide Simões for her play in goal for the Portuguese.

Portugal finished Group C play with a win and two draws, but were nosed out in the standings by Wales, a team they defeated on the tournament's opening day.

Wales 2, Chile 1

Wales won their second straight match and captured Group C with a 2-1 win over Chile. Jessica Fishlock's brace, one goal in each half, sparked Wales to the victory. Chile got a goal from Daniela Zamora in the 74th minute to pull to within one goal, but were unable to score further.

Final Standings
Group A: USA 3-0-0, 9 pts; Japan 2-1-0, 6 pts; Norway 1-2-0, 3 pts; Finland 0-3-0, 0 pts.
Group B: Iceland 3-0-0, 9 pts; Sweden 2-1-0, 6 pts; Denmark 1-2-0, 3 pts; China 0-3-0, o pts.
Group C: Wales 2-1-0, 6 pts; Portugal 1-0-2, 5 pts; Romania 1-1-1, 4 pts; Chile 0-2-1, 1 pts.

Wednesday's Final Round:
Championship: USA vs. Iceland
3rd/4th Place: Japan vs. Sweden
5th/6th Place: Norway vs. Denmark
7th/8th Place: Wales vs. China
9th/10th Place: Finland vs. Portugal
11th/12th Place: Romania vs. Chile