New-look Sweden set for World Cup.
2011 FIFA women's world football championship started - Sweden opens its World Cup campaign against Colombia on June 28 in Leverkusen.
Head coach Thomas Dennerby went with youth for the 2011 FIFA women's world football championship.
That could be the best way to describe the squad head coach Thomas Dennerby selected for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Swedish national women’s football team manager put eight players on the team with no World Cup experience and just five players with more than two world championship tournaments to their names.
“It is something of a calculated risk but we think this is the strongest team we can put on the field,” Dennerby said. “There really isn’t a lack of experience in the squad. All of the players have been in big tournaments before.”
The bulk of the Swedish squad has played in either the 2009 European Championships or the 2007 World Cup. Dennerby also picked three players from the U-20 national team that reached the semifinals of the U-20 World Cup last year. The selections all point to one opponent: world No. 1 United States.
Sweden is once more in a group that includes the Americans, North Korea and newcomers Colombia. Team captain Carolina Seger, who plays for Western New York in the U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer circuit, said the biggest hurdle the Swedes face is a mental block when it comes to playing the Americans. Sweden and the U.S. have met four times in World Cup play, with the Yanks winning all four games.
Not in awe of the U.S.
Seger said the latest Swedish team, most of which was together at the Four Nations Cup in January where Sweden beat the U.S., isn’t in awe of the U.S.
"Something I’ve experienced in the U.S. is this: By having them on the same team and watching them play, I’ve realized they’re human too,” Seger said. “That's really changed my attitude. When I go back to play with the national team, that’s something I can pass on to my teammates. Mentally, the U.S. will always be strong, but they’re still human beings and they make mistakes. We just need to get over the fact that the U.S. is a stronger nation than we are, even if they are really strong.”
The Americans are the top-ranked women’s team in the world and under head coach Pia Sundhage, have learned to play a far more technical brand of football than the type that led them to losing in the semifinals at the 2007 World Cup. Sundhage, a ground-breaking women’s player during the 80s and 90s in Sweden, took over as U.S. head coach following that disappointing showing, transformed the team, and give the Americans a definite edge in tournament play.
“She’s had a great career and she’s given us a more global, more international perspective on the game,” said team captain Christine Rampone. “In the USA, we’re physically very strong but she’s made a huge contribution from a technical point of view and in terms of helping us to really understand football. She’s doing a great job toward making us the best team in the world once more.”
That could be bad news for Sweden, which lost to the U.S. in group play in 1995, 2003 and 2007. It is the third-straight tournament in which Swedish is to meet the U.S. and North Korea.
I think it's good,” said Swedish star Lotta Schelin. “Those two teams made it to the quarter-finals at the last World Cup, but I think we're a better team this year and can get through ourselves. The smallest things make the difference. I hope we have luck on our side this time and make it to the quarter-finals. It would be magnificent, because we didn't make it at the last tournament.”
Sweden has never lost to North Korea—one of the few nations in the world that is undefeated against the Asian powerhouse. When Sweden advanced to the final at the 2003 World Cup, it lost to the U.S. but beat the Koreans. It also faced a talented but undisciplined Nigerian team. This time, budding South American power Colombia rounds out the group.
“It's a very strong group with three genuinely good opponents. We know a lot about the USA and North Korea because we've already played them, but we've yet to meet the Colombians,” Schelin said. “However, women's football in Colombia has come on a long way in recent years, and that makes them genuinely dangerous. We can't go into the first match thinking we just have to show up in order to win. We have a job to do, and we must do it well. We’re in a difficult group, but we have every chance.”
In selecting a team with just five players with experience in more than a couple of major tournaments, Dennerby said he wanted players not only with the hunger to win and but those with no real history of losing to higher-ranked teams such as the U.S. and reigning world champions Germany.
“I know it’s a bit controversial because there are some very good players that simply don’t fit in right now,” Dennerby said, citing Kosovare Asllani and Johanna Almgren as examples. Both Asllani and Almgren had been mainstays on the national team.
The latest incarnation of the women’s team is also arguably its most diverse, at least in terms of the players’ clubs. Unlike previous teams, which clubs such as Umea or Malmo dominated, the World Cup side has players from throughout the Damallsvenskan and Europe.
“This will be an awesome tournament, audience-wise, and probably also in terms of football,” Dennerrby said. “We know, or we feel that we can beat the United States. We can win against any team but on the other hand, it is perhaps no more that can be rough on us, too.”
Goalkeeper Helvig Lindahl anchors the Blue and Yellow defense. Lindahl, who plays for Kristianstad in the Damallsvenskan, has 69 caps and is one of five players with multiple World Cup experience. The net minder was a backup in both the 2003 and 2007 tournament.
Sara Thunebro, who plays for FC Frankfurt in Germany, Sara Larsson from Orebro and Linkoping back Charlotte Rohlin give Dennerby an experienced defensive trio. Newcomer Annica Svensson from Tyreso rounds out the probable starting four. Larsson has 102 caps for Sweden and Thunebro 72.
In the midfield, Seger leads an experienced and explosive unit that includes FC Sky Blue star Theresa Sjogran, Malmo stars Linda Forsberg and Nilla Fischer and newcomer Antonia Goransson from Hamburg, Germany. Lisa Dahlqvist and Marie Hammarstrom add depth.
Up front, all eyes will be on Schelin. The Olympique Lyon player is the leading active scorer on the team with 37 goals in 88 matches. Her likely partner up front is Jessica Landstrom, who toils for FC Frankfurt in Germany. Josephine Oqvist, finally healthy after several frustrating years of injuries, and Madeleine Edlund round out the attack.
Sweden opens its World Cup campaign against Colombia on June 28 in Leverkusen. The Blue and Yellow face North Korea July 2 in Augsburg before tackling the U.S. on July 6 in Wolfsburg.
By Chipp Reid