It has been pretty much the norm for Germany to finish first in tournaments in recent years - including the last FIFA Women's World Cup and UEFA European Women's Championship. So eighth place in the Algarve Cup has come as a shock for coach Silvia Neid.
Germany were the defending champions in Portugal but after two group games - a 2-1 loss to Norway and 1-0 defeat by France - dropped out of contention. They beat an understrength Denmark 3-0, but then met Italy for seventh place and fell to another single-goal loss meaning their 2007 record from seven games is one win, three draws and three defeats, hardly an auspicious start to a year in which they are hoping to defend their world crown in China this September.
"We are way behind our schedule, much more so than I had though before the tournament," Neid said. "But it is good we have that knowledge now. I'm quite glad we didn't escape with a lucky win in one of the matches we lost, that would have only covered up our weaknesses. The players have noticed that they are not in the form they should be in right now."
Neid identified individual fitness as a concern. "We had a fitness test in Cologne in December and then gave every player an individual training plan with clear demands. Some players have done too much, others have simply not done enough. Some others were injured and of course couldn't fulfil their programme. We have spoken with the players, they have given us their feedback and we have adjusted the individual plans accordingly."
Neid, who will be going into her first major tournament as head coach in September, revealed that the Algarve Cup has set back her own timetable. "To be honest, I would have thought that I would be further advanced with my plans," she said. "I thought after the tournament I pretty much would know which 21 players to take to the World Cup in China, but that's not the way it is now. If you are lacking fitness, you can’t play at the top of your game."
Nevertheless, all is not lost as Neid switches her focus to the opening UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifiers. "The players now know what they have to do," she said. "I am quite optimistic, they have to work harder, but I'm glad that we have important qualification games coming up in April and May against the Netherlands and Wales, and that we have a long period of dedicated preparation for the World Cup in the summer."
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