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The Week in Women's Football: Mexico celebrate USA shock; Spain win Nations League

This week, we continue on with our coverage of CONCACAF's W Gold Cup regional championship tournament, with Mexico defeating the Americans 2-0 for only their second win in over four dozen games between the teams over the years.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico played way above their FIFA ranking (12th in CONCACAF and 103rd globally) but cruelly were denied a historic quarterfinal place in a draw after tying with Costa Rica on key tiebreaker measures, and all four CONMEBOL guest teams moved on to the quarterfinals. We look around the world at some other tournaments, including the Finals of UEFA's First Women's Nations League, with Spain winning another major title and advancing to this summer's Paris Olympic Games Finals along with host France and Germany, while also looking at the League A-B and League B-C playoffs. We also review the Oceania Olympic Qualifiers, with New Zealand advancing, and the Asian Olympic Qualifiers, with Australia and Japan moving on to the Finals in Paris.

2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup Group Stage Review

Last week, we reported live from the Preliminaries for the 2024 W Gold Cup Finals (see: The Week in Women's Football: Chatting with stars of Gold Cup Finals; Tyrone Mears joins USL trailblazers - Tribal Football). For an overview of the entire tournament see: The Week in Women's Football: Rating ESPN's top 50; comparing IFFHS rankings - Tribal Football.

Group A

In the U.S.'s first game against Dominican Republic on February 20, Olivia Moultrie scored two goals—her first goals for the full national team in her first start after two substitute appearances late last year against China—and was named the Player of the Match as the U.S. coasted to a 5-0 victory. She turned professional as a 13-year-old—with sponsorship from Nike—and joined the Portland Thorns' academy teams. She sued the NWSL in order to be able to play professionally with Portland when she was 15, which resulted in the NWSL changing its rule that a player had to be 18-years-of-age to play in the league (the old WUSA in 2001-2023 had no age minimum but made it clear that they prioritized Americans staying in college, which meant that they were 21 or 22 years of age when they entered the league and generally applied that benchmark to their international imports).

Her lawsuit was instrumental in opening the way for other teenagers to join the league and as a result the teams' approach to recruiting high schoolers has drastically changed, with a number of signees over the past few years and more training on pre-season rosters for the experience. This "youth movement" could have a long-term impact on the American college game, as we have seen on the men's side over the past 30-40 years as more American players have bypassed college or gone for only a short time and turned pro, either in the States or abroad, with many domestic followers of the game dismissing the college game out of hand.

The college game on the women's side is crucial for developing women's football in other countries—many of whom go on to play professionally at home or in other countries—and a college education is an important aspirational benchmark (and can provide some important monetary scholarships) for many parents of young women players, and more important than playing professionally, particularly with so few able to go on to make NWSL rosters every year, with those usually having U.S. Women's national youth team experience. College soccer should still remain vibrant for the next few years, particularly as there is still a huge gap in the wages paid by professional leagues to men and women.

U.S. interim Head coach Twila Kilgore said about Moultrie's performance: "We're really, really pleased with Olivia. She's one of these players who have a little bit of an experience gap, compared to some of the other players, but certainly not a gap in talent, so these games are really, really important. It's hard to play against teams that play with five back or multiple players in the midfield … and she was able to find space in the pocket a few times. And we really challenged her as the game went on to continue to find space where she was instead of coming down below. And I think she accepted that challenge pretty well and made a difference later in her minutes. And obviously I'm super pleased for her to get a first goal and another goal. Just really good steps for her."

The game attracted only 3,242 fans on a rainy evening to Dignity Health Park in Carson, California, just south of Los Angeles. Midge Purce had two assists and Jenna Nighswonger (from the penalty spot), Lynn Williams—all three with reigning NWSL champions Gotham FC—and Alex Morgan (also from the penalty spot) of the San Diego Wave added single goals. The Americans dominated the game with 31 shots for to only one for DR (10-0 for shots on goal and 14-0 for corner kicks).

Also on February 20, Mexico and Argentina played to a scoreless tie, with Mexico outshooting the four time WWC Finalists by a 12 to 2 margin (5-2 on target). Rebeca Bernal (26) of C.F. Monterrey Rayados badly shanked a penalty kick for Mexico that would have been a deserved winner.

In the second set of matches on February 23, also in Carson, the U.S. shut out Argentina 4-0 with two goals by another teenager—Jaedyn Shaw (19) of the San Diego Wave—

along with singles from Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan (from the penalty spot) to qualify for the knockout stage. U. S. interim head coach Twila Kilgore made 10 changes to the starting lineup from the first match, with midfielder Korbin Albert of Paris St. Germain in France the only player to retain her starting place. Casey Murphy in goal earned the shutout against Argentina, after long-time starter Alyssa Naeher did the same against D.R. In the other match, Mexico utterly dominated Dominican Republic, winning 8-0 and building a 6-0 lead by halftime. Lizbeth Ovalle (24) of UANL Tigres scored twice in the first half, with one coming from the penalty spot.

The U.S. should have been forewarned by Mexico's emphatic win over DR after their opening tie against Argentina, but in the third set of matches on February 26, Mexico shocked the Americans by winning comprehensively 2-0, for only their second ever win in 43 matches and their first on American soil. The Mexicans scored two fantastic goals and had the better of the Americans with more shots (13-9), shots on goals (4-1) and a startling 9-1 advantage on corner kicks, only trailing the Americans in time of possession (37% vs. 63%). Mexico played physically and with confidence and the U.S. made a number of errors.

The biggest mistake was made in the 28th minute when veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn tried to clear the ball but kicked it right at Lizbeth Ovalle, who was patient and even patiently dribbled away from goal as Alyssa Naeher faced her down before floating an incredibly accurate shot into the net from about 15 yards out into the far corner, for which two U.S. defenders near the goal line were helpless to stop. Mexico almost had a second goal just before the end of the first half but Karla Nieto (29) of Pachuca banged her shot off the crossbar from long range. Mayra Pelayo-Bernal set off celebrations throughout Mexico with a long range shot from the left wing after wrong-footing her defender late in the game. Pelayo-Bernal (27) is American-born and raised, went to the University of Florida and played for the U.S. at the U-15 level. After college, she played for CD Parquesol in Valladolid Spain and then for Club America and is now with Tijuana in Liga MX Femenil.

The game was fantastic to watch and the result, after Mexico's disappointing WWC Round of 16 elimination last summer, again showed that the American side badly needs a reboot, which Emma Hayes should bring starting this summer at the Olympic Games Finals, but she does have input to this team's roster under interim head coach Twila Kilgore. The win also shows that Liga MX Femenil—started in 2017 by leveraging the men's professional franchises (replacing a moribund and largely irrelevant women's league) and four years after the NWSL began and with 18 teams to now 14 for the American league—has been a real positive for the Mexican WNT. Their new coach Pedro Lopez, who took Spain's U-20 team to two consecutive FIFA U-20 WWC Finals, finishing second in 2018 and winning in 2019, is certainly part of this transformation, after Mexico missed the 2023 WWC Finals, even though they held the regional qualifiers in women's football-mad Northern Mexico.

The game attracted 11,612 fans, with a large number supporting Mexico, to witness the U.S.'s second defeat to Mexico ever, after their 2010 loss in the regional WWC qualifiers in Mexico sent the Americans into an intercontinental play-in against Italy to qualify for Germany 2011, where they ultimately finished second to Japan. This game was also the Americans' first loss ever in the state of California after 56 games and snapped their unbeaten streak of 80 straight home games against CONCACAF sides, with 78 wins and only two deadlocks.

Mayra Pelayo-Bernal (#20) is swamped by teammates after her game clinching late goal in Mexico's 2-0 win over the U.S. in the 2024 W Gold Cup group stage match in Carson, California on February 26, 2024. Credit:

Kilgore said after the match: "I think it just shows how far the game is coming and there's no easy games anymore. And if we don't take care of business and we don't execute, this is to be expected. We'll step up and take ownership in that and I think anytime you have a groups that is willing to take ownership in things like this, it's a good thing for the future of the tournament."

Mexico's coach Pedro Lopez Ramos said about his team: "They went out and they were bold, they were brave with the dream of playing a good game against the U.S."

He added though that his team was not going to rest on this win: "If we lose in the quarterfinals, then the beautiful win of today is useless. I hope that this is not an isolated moment… Mexico is a country of great emotions, and I don't want this to be something sporadic, I want Mexico to be a reality and to be respected worldwide in women's soccer. So far we have made some new fans in Mexico, and that's pretty good for women's soccer."

He concluded by saying: "We have the means, the resources, the facilities and the talent to put the team where it belongs. Mexico does not want to be just a regular team. We have the potential to be a world contender."

Lopez and his side should be very proud of their win over the U.S. and how they played; he clearly is building towards a much more successful future than Mexico has had, in which they have only made three WWC Finals out of nine tournaments, and have not qualified for the last two events. It will be very interesting to watch Mexico's WNT over the next few years, as well as monitoring the growth of Liga MX Femenil, which has seen some world class talent come to play in the league, none brighter than Spain's Jenni Hermoso, now at Tigres in Monterrey.

Mexico is also bidding as a co-host with the U.S. for the 2027 WWC, which would give them an automatic berth and significant momentum in building the game at home and acquiring more resources and investment.

In the other match of the day, Argentina shut out Dominican Republic 3-0

Mexico won the group with seven points, the U.S. was second on six points, while Argentina had four points to move onto the quarterfinals and DR finished with zero points and a 0-16 goals for/goals against total.

Group B

The two South American guests Brazil and Colombia advanced to the knockout stage but Puerto Rico—as they did last week in knocking out Haiti—played above expectations and cruelly thought that they had done enough to make the quarterfinals, but were eliminated on a draw with Costa Rica (see more below) while Panama, who made the WWC Finals last summer for the first time ever, finished with zero points, with one goal scored and 13 against in their three matches.

In the first set of games on February 21 in San Diego, Colombia put six goals past Panama without reply while Puerto Rico played very well in a 1-0 loss to Brazil, with Gabi Nunes of Levante of Spain scoring the only goal nine minutes from time.

On February 24, Puerto Rico defeated Panama 2-1 as they came from behind from a 1-0 deficit at halftime with two goals in the last 20 minutes, including one three minutes into injury time by Danielle Marcano (26), who grew up in New Jersey, played collegiately at the University of Tennessee, and now plays in Turkey with FOMGET in Ankara after time in Iceland. In the other match, Brazil defeated Colombia by another 1-0 scoreline, with the only goal coming from Duda Santos (27) of Palmeiras, who scored four goals in 16 matches last season and is in her fourth season with the Sao Paulo giant. Santos played with Kiryat Gat of Israel in 2017-18 in her only stint abroad.

In the third set of games on February 27, Colombia defeated Puerto Rico 2-0 with Real Madrid's Linda Caicedo scoring her second goal in two games and Colombia controlling the game throughout, though Puerto Rico had a long free kick rebound off the crossbar late in the first half, which ultimately cost them a knockout stage berth. Brazil easily defeated Panama 5-0, with two goals coming in the first 10 minutes of the match. Geyse (25), who moved from Barcelona last season and is now with Manchester United in the WSL, scored a brace.

Group C

In Group C in Houston, Canada's play was the lead story, starting off with 10 goals and not allowing any with two shutouts, as they defeated El Salvador 6-0 on February 22 and Paraguay 4-0 on February 25. Sabrina D'Angelo (30), who is in her second season at Arsenal in England's WSL, was in goal in the first game and then Kailen Sheridan (26) of the San Diego Wave notched the shutout against Paraguay.

Against El Salvador, Cloe Lacasse was phenomenal on the left side in attack and scored the first and winning goal and provided three assists. Adrianna Leon of Aston Villa in England scored two against El Salvador and then scored a hat trick against Paraguay. Canada's bright play was nice to see, particularly after Canada, the reigning Olympic Games Champions from 2020 (played in 2021 due to COVID), crashed out of last summer's Women's World Cup at the group stage amid constant in-fighting with their national association over funding, with Canada Soccer still in some danger of going bankrupt. Canada will again be at the Olympics in France this summer, after defeating Jamaica in a regional play-in last fall.

In the other matches, Paraguay beat Costa Rica 1-0 with a goal by Lice Chamorro (25), who plays with Alaves in Spain on the first day—one of six Spanish based players in the side. On February 25, in a CONCACAF derby, Costa Rica bounced back to defeat El Salvador 2-0 with two goals by Priscilla Chinchilla (22) of Pachuca in Mexico, who her club was worried about as she sustained an injury while on national team duty, but she looked very impressive with her speed and goal scoring ability to lead Costa Rica. She has four goals in 11 matches thus far in the 2023-24 season with Pachuca, during the Apertura (Opening) Championship, after playing with Glasgow City in Scotland.

On matchday 3 on February 28, Canada finished the group undefeated and with a perfect defensive record with a 3-0 win over Costa Rica. Shelina Zadorsky (31) of Tottenham—though she joined West Ham United in January on loan through the end of the season—scored twice and Kaelin Sheridan recorded her second shutout of the tournament. In the other match which was hugely entertaining, Paraguay defeated El Salvador 3-2 with Jessica Martinez leading the way with three goals—two from the penalty spot—as the South Americans overturned a 2-1 deficit with two goals in the last five minutes. Martinez (24) has played in Spain since the 2019-20 season and has five goals in 16 games thus far this season with Levante. Canada (9 points), Paraguay (6 points) and Costa Rica (3 points) qualified for the quarterfinals while El Salvador (0 points) missed out.

Quarterfinals Draw is Set and Puerto Rico goes home after losing a draw with Costa Rica

CONCACAF had to resort to a random draw to decide whether Puerto Rico or Costa Rica would advance to the quarterfinals. In a press release, they described the process, which they held in front of the media in Houston and broadcasted live on

"At the end of the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup Group Stage, for the purposes of determining who will advance to the Quarterfinals as the second-best third-place finisher, the women's national teams of Puerto Rico (Group B) and Costa Rica (Group C) are tied according to all of the competition's tie-breaking criteria (points, goal difference, goals scored, and lowest number of points based on yellow and red cards). Per the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup Regulations, in this scenario, a draw is the only remaining option to determine which team will progress to the Quarterfinals."

Costa Rica's name was pulled out of the glass bowl by a Turks and Caicos CONCACAF official.

CONCACAF re-ranked the eight quarterfinalists after the group stage based on points, goal difference (gd) and goals scored (gs).

  1. Canada (9 pts, +13 gd, 13 gs)
  2. Brazil (9 pts, +7 gd, 7 gs)
  3. Mexico (7 pts, +10 gd, 10 gs)
  4. United States (6 pts, +7 gd, 9 gs)
  5. Colombia (6 pts, +7 gd, 8 gs)
  6. Paraguay (6 pts, -2 gd, 4 gs)
  7. Argentina (4 pts, -1 gd, 3 gs)
  8. Costa Rica (3 pts, -2 gd, 2 gs)

On Saturday March 2 and Sunday March 3, the quarterfinal matches are set as follows:

QF1: Canada vs Costa Rica
QF2: Brazil vs Argentina
QF3: Mexico vs Paraguay
QF4: United States vs Colombia

Spain Wins Inaugural UEFA Women's Nations League title

The current Women's World Cup Champions Spain added another major international trophy to their 2023 WWC Finals win by capturing the 2023-24 UEFA Women's Nations League title with a dominating 2-0 win in front of 32,657 in Seville, a record crowd to watch the women's national team in Spain on February 28. It exceeded the previous record crowd of 21,856 set five days before, also in Seville, when Spain bested the Netherlands 3-0 to qualify for this summer's Olympics Games Finals. All credit to Seville but we would like to see the Spanish Football Federation host a WNT game in Spain and Barcelona, and with professional promotion, could see massive crowds, as Barcelona's Women's Team has attracted for feature games over the past few years.

France had already qualified as hosts while Germany defeated Netherlands 2-0 in Heerenveen for third place in the Nations League to take the final UEFA spot in the 12 team tournament, with goals in the final 25 minutes by Klara Buhl (23) and Lea Schuller (26), both of Bayern Munich.

France finished second in the Nations League after losing to co-host Australia in the 2023 WWC Finals in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks. France has a very good chance of medaling this summer at home and UEFA could sweep the medals, along with now heavily favored Spain and Germany. France has a veteran team along with a conveyor belt of young talent and a head coach that is well respected in Herve Renard.

Ivory Coast's men's team sought him out to take charge temporarily during the African Cup of Nations last month, when the host side fired their head coach after their third group game when the Federation thought they had been eliminated. They qualified for the Round of 16 as one of the four best third-place teams due to other results and then went on a four game winning streak to win the title in front of their adoring fans. Ivory Coast wanted to bring in Renard to finish the tournament, who is adored by many African football fans for taking Zambia (in 2012) and Ivory Coast (in 2015) to African Cup titles in the past.

The FFF turned down the request, because of the upcoming Nations Cup Finals and Olympic Games preparation matches. It was probably the right decision, though it would have added to Renard's legend in Africa if he had guided Ivory Coast to the title. Renard is a winner and will have France well prepared for this summer's Olympic Games Finals and don't count them out.

For other Olympic finalists, Canada has medaled in the last three games and won Gold in 2020, however a semifinal berth would be a huge success for the side that is beginning to see some of their long-term internationals—like all-time international leading scorer Christine Sinclair—retire. The Americans are always favored at Olympics but new head coach Emma Hayes will only have two international friendly windows with her team before the Finals start and she will likely need more time to retool the team, which surprisingly lost at home to Mexico in the first round of the regional CONCACAF W Gold Cup (see above).

Also, during the latest international window were the UEFA Nations League A versus B and League B vs. C promotion/relegation battles, with Belgium, Norway and Sweden all easily retaining their League A status over League B sides against Hungary (10-2 on aggregate), Croatia (8-0 on aggregate) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (8-0) respectively, while Iceland just held off League B's Serbia 3-2 on aggregate.

For the League B vs. C playoff matches, all three League B sides defeated their League C opponents to retain their current position in the next tournament as Northern Ireland defeated Montenegro (3-1), Ukraine bested Bulgaria (7-0) and Slovakia overwhelmed Latvia 9-0.

New Zealand wins Oceania Football Confederation Olympic Qualifying Tournament

New Zealand's WNT qualified for their fifth consecutive Olympic Games Finals this summer in Paris—hoping to again advance beyond the group stage as they did in 2012 in London—after defeating Soloman Islands 11-1 in the OFC Finals in the 3,500 seat FFS Football Stadium in Apia, Samoa on February 19.

The Football Ferns, who led 5-0 at the half, used braces from Hannah Wilkinson (Melbourne City), Grace Jale (Perth Glory), Indiah Page-Riley (PSV Eindhoven) and Katie Kitchen (Sunderland of the WSL) in their double digit win. Three days earlier in the semifinals, Soloman Islands defeated host nation Samoa 2-0 while New Zealand defeated Fiji 7-1, with Grace Jale scoring a hat-trick and Indiah Page-Riley and Jacqueline Hands (Lewes of England and formerly at Colorado College in the States) adding braces. New Zealand finished the tournament with 32 goals scored with 2 allowed in five games, again highlighting the vast gap between the Kiwis and the rest of the region's nations in women's football. FIFA and Oceania either needs another path for someone besides New Zealand to advance for women's tournaments or New Zealand should again explore becoming an associate member of the AFC, though then they will face a gap in quality and experience versus the top sides like Japan, the two Koreas, China, and Australia.

Since New Zealand Football executives were key to the founding of the Confederation in 1966, I don't see them ever leaving the OFC, but there has to be a realistic chance for other nations to be able to qualify for major tournaments. It is happening a bit on the men's side at the youth national team level, but the women's game still sees New Zealand far ahead on the women's club and national team side—the infusion of interest and revenues from co-hosting last summer's WWC will likely further exacerbate the gap before we see any improvement. Something needs to be done to further the development of the game in the region and a task force should be implemented to develop a number of possible solutions to consider.

In the group stage, Solomon Islands won Group A with seven points, one point ahead of second place Fiji, while Papua New Guinea finished third on four points and American Samoa finished in fourth with zero points, scoring only once and allowing 26 goals.

In Group B, New Zealand finished top with nine points, Samoa was second and moved onto the knockout stage with six points, Tonga was third with three points and Vanuatu had zero points, scoring once and allowing eight goals.

Papua New Guinea won the 2022 Oceania Women's Nations Cup title [held without New Zealand, who were co-hosting the 2023 WWC Finals and played friendlies during the tournament] 2-1 over host Fiji, but lost to Panama (2-0) in the first round of the February 2023 Intercontinental Playoffs in New Zealand. PNG did not make the semifinals of the most recent tournament and, despite New Zealand's dominance, this edition showed some increasing parity among the top five Oceania nations (excluding the Football Ferns).

Australia and Japan qualify for 2024 Paris Olympic Games Finals

Australia and Japan are the Asian Football Confederation's representatives for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games Finals. The Matildas had an easier path than Japan, defeating Central Asian's Uzbekistan 13-0 on aggregate, 3-0 in Tashkent on February 24 and then by a 10-0 scoreline at home in Melbourne in front of a sellout crowd of 54,120. Michelle Heyman (35)—the current leading scorer in A-League Women with 12 (one more than Philippines international Sarina Bolden of the Newcastle Jets) who had not played for Australia since 2018—was brought in to replace injured forward Sam Kerr and scored the winner in the first game and then four goals—all in the first half—in the second.

With her goalscoring form head coach Tony Gustavsson should strongly consider taking her to Paris this summer—she competed in the 2016 Olympic Games Finals in Brazil. However, he will have only 18 player spots compared to 23 in Women's World Cups and he addressed Heyman specifically after the game when he said: "Can she bring the pressing intensity and the game out on the field when you have less time and space? I think that's the question mark for her."

Heyman is a traditional striker and Gustavsson prefers his forwards to be more creative in the attacking build-up. This will be Australia's fifth Olympic Games Finals in women's football out of eight tournaments (including Paris 2024) and they hope to better their fourth place finish in the last Finals in Japan.

Speaking of Japan, they qualified as well with a 2-1 aggregate win over Democratic Republic of Korea. The first leg on February 24 was scoreless and was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after Japan Football Association officials requested that it be switched from Pyongyang over "a lack of operational transparency and a scarcity of flights." The AFC moved the game to Saudi Arabia just days before, which was quite a temperature change from very chilly Japan. Japan won the second leg in Tokyo 2-1, with Aoba Fujino (20) of Tokyo Verdy Beleza scoring the ultimate winner in the 76th minute, as midfielder Hye-Yong Kim (20) of DPR Korea scored a late consolation goal in the 81st minute.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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Tim Grainey


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