U.S. wins Algarve Cup thanks to Wambach's winner
LA REAL DE SANTO ANTONIO, Portugal -- Pia Sundhage met with Abby Wambach on the eve of the U.S. women's national team's final against Denmark in the 2008 Algarve Cup and put a little pressure on her striker.
"I had a great meeting last night with Pia and essentially, I have to take the responsibility of winning games for my team," Wambach said. "When it comes down to final games, big players are the ones that make the big plays so that their teams can win big games."
Wambach took Sundhage's words to heart. The striker scored the decider, with a tremendous individual effort, in the 2-1 victory Wednesday against Denmark to lead the U.S. to the 2008 Algarve Cup crown.
The U.S. entered the locker room at halftime tied at 1-1. Natasha Kai had started the scoring with a header off a Carli Lloyd corner kick before Denmark's Cathrine Sorensen equalized.
Sundhage made some adjustments at halftime. She was looking for her team to transition better from defense to offense and to control the ball through the center midfielders. She also inserted Tobin Heath for Heather O'Reilly and liked what she saw.
"Just look at Tobin today. I love it," said Sundhage. "She is looking for one versus one. She could have had three goals today. She is comfortable with the ball and the way she solves the situations, I like that because she is unpredictable."
Sundhage also gave high marks to her defense for working together to contain Denmark's three front-runners.
"They had three forwards up top. I am so happy about the way they defended, the back four," Sundhage said. "They did a great job with Christie Rampone as the conductor. Even though sometimes they got behind, we believe in what we are doing and we are pretty fast."
The U.S. women were happy to take the title and pleased with the progress they have made as a team in Portugal, but they are already eyeing Olympic qualifying in Mexico next month and a trip to Beijing.
"For me, this tournament is great," Wambach said. "You go away feeling good about yourself, you gain confidence, you gain experience for the younger players, but ultimately qualification is on our mind. Our most important thing right now is getting to Beijing."
Gayle Bryan is the publishing director of Fair Game Magazine.