The U.S. Women's National Team got a first half goal on a header by Natasha Kai and a 49th minute game-winner from Abby Wambach to defeat Denmark, 2-1, and win the 2008 Algarve Cup.
Coming into the championship game, the Danes had yet to allow a goal in the competition, but that changed in the 14th minute after Heather O'Reilly earned a corner kick with a darting run down the left side. Carli Lloyd sent a curving cross into the middle to an unmarked Kai, who met it solidly just outside the six-yard box, heading the ball down and through the legs of Denmark goalkeeper Heidi Johansen on the bounce. It was Kai's second goal of the tournament and 10th of her international career.
The Danes played in 4-3-3 formation and did well to stretch the U.S. defense with balls lofted over the top, but most of the services were expertly run down by centerbacks Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf, who played 90 minutes together in the middle of the U.S. defense for the first time this tournament.
"It was a great tournament for us, especially going into qualifying," said U.S. captain Christie Rampone. "We got better each and every game. We are playing with a ton of confidence and you can see it out there. We are pinging balls together, we are reading the game better, our defensive line is staying high. I think we are just trusting each other out there. The communications is just really good, better than it's ever been."
Denmark had won its three group games by 1-0 scores and was not going to be discouraged by the lone goal. They pushed forward in the first half, aided at times by sloppy giveaways from the U.S. midfield, and then earned theequalizer in the 30th minute.
The cross came from the right side and bounced at the top of the goal box. Denmark's Cathrine Sorensen opportunistically took the ball off her chest and then quickly volleyed it into the left corner from close range. It was the first, and as it turned out, only goal the U.S. would give up in the tournament.
The Danes had the chance to go ahead three minutes later, but right back Mia Olsen hit a screaming volley over the goal after she had made an overlapping run to the right post.
After the break, it did not take the U.S. long to strike again, scoring on their first shot of the second half. In the 49th minute, Wambach dribbled down the right side and was tackled by a Danish defender as both players went to the ground in a heap. The ball rolled into the right corner, where Kai tracked it down. By that time, Wambach had gotten up and made a run into the penalty area where Kai found her feet with a square pass. Wambach took a touch to her right to evade a defender, who got a piece of the ball, but not enough to stop the U.S. forward from bouncing her shot across the goal into the lower left corner. The gutsy finish was Wambach's third goal of the tournament and 89th of her career.
With Kai's goal coming on the first shot of the first half, it marked the second time this tournament that the U.S. had scored on its first shot of both halves, also achieving the feat against China in the first game.
Both teams did very well clearing crosses out of their respective penalty boxes, including two excellent clears by Lori Chalupny late in the game after Danish winger Joanna Rassmussen had twice gotten behind the U.S. defense down the left sideline. U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath came close to scoring after coming on at halftime, the first chance coming in the 64th minute when she cut inside from the left wing and cracked a dipping shot off the right post. Angela Hucles had a chance to finish the rebound, but couldn't turn the difficult volley on goal.
Heath also practically knocked over Johansen on a similar shot later in the match, but the Danish goalkeeper was able to bat the ball up in the air and then catch it on the way down.
Wednesday's match marked the United States' sixth straight appearance in the Algarve Cup title game and earned its sixth Algarve Cup championship overall, winning in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and now 2008.
For the fourth straight match at the Algarve Cup, U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage made all six of the allowed substitutions, also giving time to forwards Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Cheney and midfielder Angie Wozuk, who had a few cracks at goal in her 14 minutes of action. Leslie Osborne played an excellent 90 minutes in the center of the U.S. midfield in place of Shannon Boxx, who suffered a minor injury in the United States' win over Norway.
Seven different players scored the United States' 12 goals in the tournament and the U.S. moved to 7-0-0 on the year under head coach Pia Sundhage, having scored 21 goals and allowed just two. The Algarve Cup title was the second tournament championship for Sundhage after having also won the Four Nations Tournament this past January in China.
In the other placement matches, Norway took third place with a 2-0 win over Germany, handing the reigning FIFA Women's World Cup champions their second loss of the tournament. Sweden defeated Italy, 3-0, for fifth place and Iceland finished an undefeated run in the tournament by downing Finland, 3-0, for seventh place. The games for ninth and eleventh places both went to penalty kicks. China and Portugal tied 1-1 before China took ninth, winning 5-4 in spot kicks. Ireland and Poland tied 2-2 before the Algarve-first-timer Poles pulled out a dramatic 6-5 win in penalties.
The USA will now return home for a week-long break before regrouping on March 21 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. for a training camp prior to leaving for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, being held from April 2-12. The U.S. will face Jamaica and Mexico in first round play of the six-team tournament. The winners of the semifinal matches earn berths to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
Match-up: USA vs. Denmark
Competition: 2008 Algarve Cup Championship Game
Venue: Municipal Stadium; Vila Real de San Antonio, Portugal
Date: March 12, 2008; Kickoff – 1:15 p.m. local / 9:15 a.m. ET
Weather: Sunny, windy – 78 degrees
1 2 F
USA 1 1 2
DEN 1 0 1
USA – Natasha Kai (Carli Lloyd) 14th minute.
DEN – Cathrine Sorsensen (n/a) 30.
USA – Abby Wambach (Natasha Kai) 49.
USA: 18-Hope Solo; 14-Stephanie Cox (26-Rachel Buehler, 72), 15-Kate Markgraf, 3-Christie Rampone – Capt., 17-Lori Chalupny; 12-Leslie Osborne, 11-Carli Lloyd (16-Angela Hucles, 34), 5-Lindsay Tarpley (10-Angie Woznuk, 77), 9-Heather O'Reilly (13-Tobin Heath, 46); 6-Natasha Kai (19-Amy Rodriguez, 81), 20-Abby Wambach (8-Lauren Cheney, 87).
Subs not used: 4-Cat Whitehill, 7-Shannon Boxx, 24-Nicole Barnhart.
Head Coach: Pia Sundhage
DEN: 1-Heidi Johansen; 2-Mia Olsen (15-Marie Bjerg, 75), 3-Katrine Pederson, 4-Christina Ørntoft, 5-Bettina Hansen (12-Line Hansen, 75); 6-Mariann Knudsen, 7-Cathrine Sorensen, 10-Camilla Sand (19-Sine Hovesen, 75), 13-Johanna Rasmussen (18-Theresa Nielsen, 89); 9-Maiken Pape (8-Janne Madsen, 54), 11-Merete Pedersen.
Subs not used: 14-Marie Herpig, 16-Tine Cederkvist, 17-Mette Jensen, 20-Sanne Troelsgaard.
Head Coach: Kenneth Heiner-Moller
USA / DEN
Shots: 17/ 5
Shots on Goal: 9 / 3
Saves: 2 / 6
Corner Kicks: 4 / 1
Fouls: 6 / 7
Offside: 0 / 2
USA – Stephanie Cox (caution) 60th minute.
2008 Algarve Cup Final Standings