U.S. WOMEN OPEN ALGARVE CUP AGAINST FRANCE
The U.S. Women’s National Team has played hundreds of games across the world, but it faces a new challenge with the opening of the 2004 Algarve Cup tomorrow vs. France. Never before has the USA finished one important tournament in one part of the world, had just three days off, then traveled to another part of the world, trained for three days and started another important competition, but that is exactly what will happen when the USA squares off against rising European power France tomorrow (Sunday, March 14) at 4:15 p.m. local/11:15 a.m. ET. The match will not be broadcast on American TV, but fans can follow the game live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. The USA’s game against Les Bleues comes just nine days after finishing the CONCACAF Final Round Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Costa Rica and marks the start of the third tournament of the year for the U.S. women. The USA has already won the Four Nations Tournament in China last January and the Olympic qualifying tournament, but as usual, faces a difficult road to the Algarve Cup with the three talented sides -- France, Denmark and Sweden – standing in their way during Group A play. Group B features Norway, Italy, China and Finland. The winners of the groups play for the championship, meaning that even a tie during group play can put a major crimp in a team’s championship hopes. Group C features host Portugal, Wales, Northern Ireland and Greece. The top two teams in Group C will face the bottom two finishers in Groups A & B during their placement games.
SUN, THEN RAIN, THEN SUN
The USA arrived in Portugal on the morning of March 11 after taking an overnight flight from Newark, N.J. After landing in Lisbon – and seeing many signs of the rising excitement for the 2004 European Championships to be held in June and July this summer – the U.S. team hopped on a 3 ½ hour bus ride south to the Algarve region on the southern coast of Portugal, with almost every player sleeping the entire trip. The USA shook the travel from their legs that afternoon with a short training under blue skies and sun, with a loosely organized soccer tennis tournament producing a pair of surprise victors: coaches April Heinrichs and Tracey Leone. The pair, who were members of the USA’s first Women’s World Cup championship team in 1991, must have channeled their success from China to defeat Brandi Chastain and Cindy Parlow in the championship game as Leone, who still has some of her signature quickness, patrolled the baseline with aplomb. As the Americans arrived at the training fields, which are owned by the team hotel, immaculately maintained and just a five minute drive away, they were pleased to see something that had been in short supply on the fields of Costa Rica: plush, green grass. The USA’s training on Friday was a wet one however, held under steady cold rain, and produced some comedic moments of slipping and sliding. The USA worked hard in the rainy conditions and were rewarded with stunning, crisp clear weather on Saturday, running through a fun training session that ended with a finishing game won by the two goalkeepers, Siri Mullinix and Briana Scurry.
HELLO FROM PORTUGAL
Every so often when the U.S. Women's National Team plays out of the country, a player will write an e-postcard, filling in the fans back home on the happenings of the team, off field activities, and anything else on their mind. Today, San Diego native Shannon MacMillan, who two years ago at the Algarve Cup scored seven of the team's eight goals, and last year tallied the winning goal against Norway and also scored in a 2-0 victory over China in the championship game, shares her thoughts on a foreign substance called rain, life without Joy, and the best ice cream in southern Europe.
USA vs. FRANCE PREVIEW
The USA has not faced France in almost seven years, last meeting in a two-game series in April of 1997. Only five players on the USA’s 2004 Algarve Cup roster played in those matches, which produced two hard fought U.S. victories, 4-2 and 2-1. The USA is actually 8-0-0 all-time vs. France, but the French are a rapidly improving team that has benefited from increased support from its federation and qualified for first-ever Women’s World Cup in 2003, after never having played in a world championship or made the semifinals of a European championship. France won two playoff series – over two teams with Women’s World Cup experience, Denmark and England -- to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, but had the misfortune of being drawn into a group that featured both Norway and Brazil, and did not advance out of the first round. France lost to Norway, defeated South Korea and drew with Brazil. France is one of the most exciting and stylish teams in Europe, qualities no doubt instilled by their famous men’s national team, and much of that class comes from forward Marinette Pichon, a former WUSA MVP and one of the best strikers in the world. France scored just two goals at USA ’03 in a 1-1 tie with Brazil and the 1-0 victory over South Korea, both of course by Pichon, who terrorized WUSA defenses for the Philadelphia Charge with her ability to sneak behind backlines and score with just a sliver of an opening. Pichon has been playing for France for more than a decade, has averaged two goals for every three matches she has played for club and country and has scored 59 international goals in just 77 games. France also features some speedy attacking players in Hoda Lattaf (17 international goals), and on the wings by the dangerous Stephanie Mugneret-Beghe, who played in the WUSA for the Boston Breakers and will appear in her historic 100th game for France vs. the USA. Elodie Woock and Sandrine Soubeyrand are experience midfielders and ball winners for the flashy French, who sometimes play a 3-5-2 formation with wingers. France’s goalkeepers, Sandrine Capy and Celine Deville, are relatively inexperienced, having just 15 caps among them, and veteran Peggy Provost, a starter at the Women’s World Cup, will be counted on to lock down the defense as fellow WWC starting defender Emmanuelle Sykora was scratched from the roster. The French finished fourth in their Algarve Cup debut last year, defeating Finland and Denmark in group play while also suffering a 3-0 loss to China. A tense 1-0 loss to powerful Norway in the 3rd place match showed that Les Bleues were ready to compete with the best.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Briana Scurry, Siri Mullinix; DEFENDERS (7): Kylie Bivens, Brandi Chastain, Kate Markgraf, Heather Mitts, Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Cat Reddick; MIDFIELDERS (7): Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny, Julie Foudy, Angela Hucles, Leslie Osborne, Lindsay Tarpley, Aly Wagner; FORWARDS (4): Mia Hamm, Shannon MacMillan, Cindy Parlow, Abby Wambach.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Sandrine Capy (FCF Juvisy), Céline Deville (Montpellier Hérault SC);
DEFENDERS (5): Laura Georges (Paris-SG), Peggy Provost (FCF Juvisy), Sabrina Viguier (Toulouse FC), Sandrine Dusang (FCF Lyon), Séverine Goulois; MIDFIELDERS (8): Elise Bussaglia (CNFE FF), Sonia Bompastor (Montpellier Hérault SC), Anne-Laure Casseleux (ASJ Soyaux) Amélie Coquet (FCF Henin Beaumont), Candie Herbert (Soyaux ASJ)
Marie-Ange Kramo (Toulouse FC), Sandrine Soubeyrand (FCF Juvisy), Elodie Woock (Toulouse FC); FORWARDS (5): Hoda Lattaf (Montpellier Hérault SC), Stéphanie Mugneret-Béghé (FCF Juvisy), Claire Morel (FCF Lyon), Marinette Pichon (Ol. Saint-Memmie), Laëtitia Tonazzi (FCF Juvisy).
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs on France and Marinette Pichon:
“We watched them play on tape from all three of their Women’s World Cup games and they were extremely competitive and play a nice possession style. They are a young team, but they have played together for four or five years now, so what you see when you play France is great chemistry all over the field. And you combine that with one of the most dangerous forwards in the world in many respects in Marinette Pichon. She is dangerous in one-front all by herself because she understands movement off the ball so well and has a phenomenal shots-on-goal to goals ratio. She is clean technically and can volley as well as anyone I’ve seen since Michelle Akers. She’s also good in the air and doesn’t have Akers stature. The other part of her game that makes her difficult to keep track of is that her speed is as good as anyone.”
U.S. captain Julie Foudy on France:
“We’ve heard they are very good. They are vastly improved over the last few years and we know first-hand what Pichon can do and what danger she brings. We’ve also played against Stéphanie Mugneret-Béghé in the WUSA so that is two great personalities they have and they also have several other very talented players.”
ALGARVE CUP FORMAT
Since the expansion from eight to 12 teams three years ago, the Algarve Cup format has been as follows. The teams in Group A and B will compete for the title as the group winners will play in the championship game on Saturday, March 20. The two second-place group finishers in Groups A and B will play for third place while the third-place finishers will play for fifth. The Group C teams will be competing for a chance to play for spots 7-12 as the winner of Group C will play the fourth place team in Group A, the second place team in Group C will play the fourth place team in Group B and the third and fourth place finishers in Group C will play each other again. For the first time, the final matches in Group A and B will be played concurrently at different sites. There is also a rumor flying around the Algarve that the championship game may be held at the brand new 30,000-seat stadium built here in Faro for the 2004 European championships, but the site has not yet been determined.
Following is the overall Algarve Cup Schedule:
2004 Algarve Cup – Portugal
Sunday, March 14 Venue Time
DENMARK vs. SWEDEN Ferreiras 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
USA vs. FRANCE Ferreiras 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
NORWAY vs. FINLAND Guia 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
ITALY vs. CHINA Guia 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
PORTUGAL vs. WALES Faro 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
GREECE vs. N. IRELAND Faro 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
Thursday, March 16 Venue Time
DENMARK vs. USA Quarteira 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
SWEDEN vs. FRANCE Quarteira 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
NORWAY vs. ITALY Olhao 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
FINLAND vs. CHINA Olhao 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
PORTUGAL vs. GREECE Albufeira 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
WALES vs. N. IRELAND Albufeira 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
Thursday, March 18 Venue Time
DENMARK vs. FRANCE Silves 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
SWEDEN vs. USA Lagos 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
NORWAY vs. CHINA Silves 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
FINLAND vs. ITALY Lagos 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
PORTUGAL vs. N. IRELAND Guia 1:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET
WALES vs. GREECE Guia 4:15 p.m. local / 11:15 a.m. ET
Saturday, March 20 Venue Time
Match for 11th and 12th Montechoro 10 a.m. local / 5 a.m. ET
Match for 9th and 10th Ferreiras 10 a.m. local / 5 a.m. ET
Match for 7th and 8th Loule 10 a.m. local / 5 a.m. ET
Match for 5th and 6th Olhao 3 p.m. local / 10 a.m. ET
Match for 3rd and 4th TBD 3 p.m. local / 10 a.m. ET
Final TBD 6 p.m. local / 1 p.m. ET
CREPES FOR ALL MY TEAMMATES!
The U.S. team visited two of its favorite places in the Algarve on Friday night, eateries that inspire strong Pavlov-like responses from the players all year leading up the tournament, as the majority of the team ate at an Indian restaurant just steps from the hotel, followed by a walk down the hill to a pizza/ice cream joint which serves some of the world’s best crepes, topped with all sorts of ice cream, chocolate syrup, bananas, strawberries and much, much more. As it was defender Amy LePeilbet’s 22nd birthday, her teammates bought her crepes. While teammates had to practically roll team captain Julie Foudy back up the hill, all were talking about a return trip to “the crepe place” in the near future.
She Said It:
“Whoa…almost didn’t see you there.”
-- Mia Hamm, to a young male tennis player competing in a tournament at the team hotel who stepped onto the very small elevator packed with U.S. players wearing a hip, bright green camouflage sweatshirt.