Thursday 24 February 2022, 08:00

Stars shine as women’s elite clash

  • The world’s top teams have been on show in high-calibre friendly tournaments

  • Belgium, England, France, Sweden and USA all emerged with new additions to their trophy cabinets

  • Catarina Macario, Lauren Hemp and Marie-Antoinette Katoto among the players to impress

The cream of international women’s football, including all eight of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ quarter-finalists, has been on show across the globe over the past week.

Star-studded friendly tournaments, from Los Angeles to Le Havre, provided the perfect appetiser ahead of the resumption of qualifying for next year’s global finals in Australia and New Zealand.

For Belgium, England, France, Sweden and USA, these competitions also yielded hard-earned trophies and a timely boost to morale. Several stars, both old and new, also came to the fore, as we highlight in our review of a busy week of top-level action.

SheBelieves Cup

USA coach Vlatko Andonovski named a new-look squad for this tournament, minus the likes of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, and there were notable successes among the youngsters he promoted.

Back-to-back 5-0 wins over New Zealand and Iceland, after a goalless opening draw with Czech Republic, kept the trophy on US soil and raised hopes of a bright future for the record four-time world champions. Iceland, too, emerged with great credit after beating both the Czechs and New Zealand to finish runners-up. The Football Ferns, on the other hand, return home needing to solve a familiar problem, having failed to find the net in any of their three matches.

Standout player: Catarina Macario Long regarded as one of the Americans’ brightest hopes, 22-year-old Macario stated her case for a regular starting berth with a magnificent, match-winning performance in the title-clinching victory over Iceland. The Brazil-born forward scored two sublime goals to break down the Nordic side’s stubborn resistance and later laid on another for Mal Pugh, another of the US success stories.

Arnold Clark Cup

Played between four teams in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, this new addition to the calendar lived up to expectations of a tight, well-matched and high-quality tournament.

Ultimately, just one goal – Fran Kirby’s fine solo effort in the final seconds of the hosts’ 3-1 win over Germany – separated hosts England from Spain at the top of the podium. La Roja nonetheless confirmed their status as title contenders for the upcoming UEFA Women’s EURO by drawing with the Lionesses and Germany, and beating Olympic champions Canada. The Germans, meanwhile, were left licking their wounds after picking up just one point from a possible nine.

Standout player: Lauren Hemp While Alexia Putellas, with performances that oozed class and yielded two key goals, showed just why she was recently named The Best FIFA Women’s Player, Hemp was the player who wrote her name large across this tournament. Though still just 21, the Manchester City forward looks to have established herself as a certain starter for Wiegman after a tournament that showcased her skill and dynamism against first-rate opposition.

Tournoi de France

Hosts France emerged with the trophy and a timely boost to morale after winning all three matches against heavyweight opposition in Caen and Le Havre.

Victories over Finland (5-0), Brazil (2-1) and the Netherlands (3-1) saw Corinne Diacre’s side retain their Tournoi title in some style, while the Dutch – in their first major test under new coach Mark Parsons - finished runners-up. Brazil, for their part, are likely to be concerned at ending the tournament without a win and with Marta penalties responsible for their only two goals.

Standout player: Marie-Antoinette Katoto Controversially omitted from France’s 2019 Women’s World Cup squad, the prolific Paris Saint-Germain striker seems set on making up for that lost opportunity. Katoto certainly made herself one of the first names on Diacre’s team sheet for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers with match-winning braces in Les Bleues’ key matches against Brazil and the Dutch.

Pinatar Cup

This Spain-hosted tournament has a new champion after Belgium came out on top of the eight-team field, edging Russia on penalties after a goalless final. The Red Flames’ success was indebted to a solid defence that, over three games against Slovakia, Wales and the Russians, wasn’t breached once. Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, claimed the final place on the podium thanks to a superb Denise O’Sullivan effort in their third-place play-off against Wales. Scotland, champions in 2020, finished fifth.

Standout player: Janice Cayman While clean sheets were the foundation on which Belgium’s success was built, the Lyon midfielder provided some much-needed class and composure, scoring against Slovakia and keeping her cool to convert in the shootout wins over Wales and Russia.

Algarve Cup

Penalties were also needed to separate Sweden and Italy in Portugal, and it was the Swedes – banishing the ghosts of their shootout loss to Canada in last year’s Olympic final – who came out on top. Both sides had impressed over the course of the five-team tournament, which was hit midway through by the COVID-enforced withdrawal of Denmark. Norway, having narrowly lost out to Italy in the semi-finals, finished third with a 2-0 win over their Portuguese hosts.

Standout player: Caroline Seger When Sweden - 1-0 down in the final - won a penalty with 19 minutes remaining, there was shock when Caroline Seger stepped forward to take it. The team’s veteran captain had, after all, been heartbroken after blasting over a spot kick that would have secured Olympic gold for the Swedes in Yokohama. But Seger isn’t Europe’s record caps holder for nothing, and the 36-year-old coolly slotted home before going on to convert the first of six successful Swedish penalties in the shootout that followed.