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european champs

High expectations ahead of football kick-off

Published onsdag 10 juli 2013 kl 11.27
"There is a difference between countries"
(3:38 min)
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage. Photo: Adam Ihse/Scanpix

When the 2013 Uefa Women's European Championships kick off in Gothenburg tonight, expectations on the Swedish team will be high.

"Anything but a semi-final would be a fiasco," writes sports columnist Johan Esk in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Although Germany has won the past five championships, Sweden, along with France and England are among the favourites.

Sweden, putting a lot of trust in forward Lotta Schelin, is coached by Pia Sundhage, who led the US women's football team to win gold in the 2012 Olympics.

The first game kicks off at 8:30 PM, with hosts Sweden playing Denmark.

For Sweden, the real warm-up to this year's tournament began when Swede Pia Sundhage, two-time Olympic champion as coach of the United States, signed on to head the national team in September last year.

Still in the US, Sundhage told Swedish Television she already had her dream job, and now another dream was to come true - to coach her native country.

Sundhage's first major task as manager is to guide the team through the European championships, which begin today. Sweden, who are in a group with Denmark, Italy and Finland, are favourites to make it to the knock-out phase and will be helped by their home fans. With the home advantage comes pressure to perform, but Sundhage - who earned Sweden its only championship gold to date by scoring the decisive penalty in the 1984 Euro final isn't phazed by the pressure.

"The pressure means nothing," Sundhage told Swedish Radio. "I'm not playing any games - I'm just a coach. My name is always seen here and there, but I'll say it again: I would be nothing without the sport, without the team-play. If the pressure is on me, that's just a good thing. Each player will be able to relax more if that is the case."

The tournament culminates at Stockholm's 50 thousand seater Friends Arena. The final is the only game to be played there, and so far almost half the tickets have been sold. The total number of tickets sold in the tournament - 105,000 - is not far off the record Euro sales in Finland four years ago.

Swedish Radio sports journalist Lasse Persson says "Ticket sales have been fantastic and Sweden will receive great support from the fans. That can be decisive in tight games, hearing that the crowd has your back. That might make you push just a little harder."

Marie Hammarström scored the goal of the tournament in the 2011 World Cup, landing Sweden victory in the match for third place against France. Last year, France got back at Sweden by knocking the Swedish team out of the London Olympics in the quarter finals.

Then, Sweden's biggest star, Lotta Schelin, who plays for French champions league winners Lyon, played as the lone striker. When Sweden kicks off the tournament against Denmark this evening, Schelin will be joined up front by Kosovare Asslani. The duo have been getting to know each other on the pitch during this year's friendly games.

Asslani tells Swedish Radio "We've got this depth between each other; if I drop deep to get the ball, Lotta will keep the defender occupied further down. Or vice versa. We work together. We've got great communication during games."

The last time Sweden and Denmark met, in 2011, the Swedes won 3 - 1. Sweden's outspoken coach Pia Sundhage has said the team has only focused on the game against Denmark in the run-up to the Euros. And she's repeated the message that she wants her players to relish playing in a tournament at home.

"It's now," Sundhage told Swedish Television recently. "I played 'now or never' in the changing room when I was goofing around before. You should take pleasure in your past and looking ahead to your future, but in this case, it's happening right now. This is when we're supposed to do it."

Coverage in the domestic media of women's football has been growing over the past few years.

The Swedish tabloid Expressen is one of the papers whose sports section will cover the tournament in some depth over the next few weeks, Thomas Mattsson is their editor in chief. He told Radio Sweden his paper will cover the competition comprehensively, with 11 pages today alone.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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