The U.S. Women’s National Team didn’t get the exact result they wanted in the final match of group play at the Algarve Cup on Monday, but it was enough to send them to the tournament championship, where they’ll have a chance to avenge a loss to a bitter rival.
After 90-plus scoreless minutes in Lagos, Portugal, the final game of Group B play between the United States and Iceland ended in a 0-0 draw. Hope Solo finished with two saves and logged her 80th career shutout.
The one point earned for the tie gave the USWNT seven points for the tournament, putting them at the top of Group B and one point better than Group A winner Sweden. With the second most points in the tournament, Team USA advances to the Algarve Cup title match on Wednesday afternoon against Group C winner France. The squads last met on February 8th in France, a match that the home club won 2-0.
“It’s going to be another great test. Everything is about making strides, so it’s another opportunity to gauge where we’re at and see how far we’ve come in a month,” USWNT Coach Jill Ellis said. “The most important thing of going to a World Cup is the upward trend; in terms of performance, fitness and all the components that will help us win.”
Iceland was likewise a very stiff test for the USA women, as they engaged in a physical wire-to-wire battle that was reflected in the result on the scoreboard.
The Americans were stout all day on defense, and as a result Iceland only got two shots on Hope’s net all game. Early on, Hope only had to handle the ball a few times. The first opportunity came on a free kick into the box from near midfield, which she smothered well in front of the goal. Later, on another long kick into the box, she dealt with a header attempt, but the chance was well off goal and she scooped it with ease. Another header came in on a bounce and Hope pounced on it before an Icelander could finish the chance.
The best scoring chance for Iceland all day came during stoppage time at the end of the first half, but despite being mostly untested through the first 45 minutes of the match, Hope stood up to the challenge with aplomb, as noted in the USSoccer.com game recap:
“Iceland had created virtually no scoring chances through the first 45 minutes when the ball popped to Hólmfrídur Magnúsdóttir in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. She got off a dangerous shot high to the middle of the goal, but Solo flew to push the ball over the bar for a corner kick.”
Nothing came of that corner, and shortly thereafter the teams went to halftime knotted at zero.
After playing very well in the first half, the U.S. defense turned it up a notch in the second half and completely shut down Iceland, helping Hope by keeping the net free of any scoring chances as she eased to her second consecutive clean sheet.
Afterward, USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn commented on how hard the defense worked to keep Iceland at bay and why they were able to be successful in their efforts.
“It was definitely a game of duels and winning your individual battles,” she said. “It was really about reading second balls, just being competitive and trying to be first to things and breaking pressure. You just kind of have to keep your head and stick with our game plan. (Iceland defensive tactics are) tough though, but you try to find people in the seams and kind of play our game. It’s tough when they’re disruptive but you have to go to the basics and that’s winning balls and connecting passes.”
The U.S. Women’s National Team will play France in the 22nd Algarve Cup championship match on Wednesday at Algarve Stadium in Algarve, Portugal.
France won all three of their group play matches, defeating host Portugal 1-0, Denmark 4-1 and Japan 3-1, to finish as the top team in the tournament in group play. Team USA was second with a 2-1 win over Norway and a 3-0 win over Switzerland preceding the draw against Iceland.
The USWNT will be participating in their 14th Algarve Cup Final and seeking their 10th Algarve Cup title, more than any other country. They last won the title in 2013 by beating Germany 2-0 in the final.
Wednesday’s match is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET and can be seen on FOX Sports 1.