With a table-topping performance in the preliminary rounds, Sweden has proved they will be a contender for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
But do they have what it takes to win their first ever World Cup title?
The lead up to Germany
Despite their dominance in the UEFA preliminary rounds (including a 17-0 dismantling of Azerbaijan), Sweden will have to find their feet quickly in the Group Stage to advance to the quarter finals.
In Group C, Sweden shares the field with some tough competition: up-and-coming North Korea as well as FIFA’s number one ranked team in the world – the United States.
To make matters more interesting for die-hard Swedish football fans, the US team is coached by Swede Pia Sundhage, a former professional footballer who played for Sweden in the ’91 and ’95 World Cups.
Underdog Colombia – playing in its first ever World Cup – rounds out the field.
Although they are still yet to walk away with the title, Sweden has been a steady performer in international football competitions over the years They have qualified for every FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament since the competition began in 1991.
Sweden’s best result to date was as runners-up in 2003, losing the final to Germany, which won again in China in 2007. And Germany, playing this year’s tournament on home soil, are strong favourites to win an unprecedented third successive Cup this time around.
Germany has invested a €51 million into the competition, with games being held in arenas in nine different cities around the country. Over 80 percent of the 1 million tickets have been sold already, a testament to the fact that Women’s Soccer is fast becoming a heavyweight in the world of spectator sports.
This year’s squad
Sweden’s team has had a significant makeover this year, with nine new additions to the line up.
Instead of relying on the same players that failed to advance from 2007’s Group Stage, the coaching staff has looked elsewhere for the talent.
“It’s true that we now have a new generation,” Coach Thomas Dennerby told the FIFA website.
“We have a lot of players with superb qualities. I believe my squad is the best national team we’ve ever had.”
Despite the ‘new generation’, Sweden’s team has the highest average age of all the qualified teams at 27 years.
By comparison, North Korea’s average age is 20.5.
But with age comes experience, and Sweden’s team is no exception. Some players worth remembering are veterans Therese Sjögran (34) and Sara Larsson (32), both having represented Sweden in the past two FIFA World Cups, as well as Caroline Seger (26) and Lotta Schelin (27), who were both in the 2007 squad.
Sweden’s greatest hope rests on the boots of Schelin, currently a striker for French club Olympique Lyonnais. She has made 89 appearances for the national side, and was the leading goal scorer in Sweden’s top professional league in 2007 (27 goals).
Another player to watch is Sjögran, a midfielder for Sky Blue FC of the US professional league who has played the most matches for Sweden, notching 169 caps. She has scored 18 international goals and is also a two time Olympian.
The road to World Cup glory
Sweden has three matches in the initial Group Stage. Following its initial match against Colombia, Sweden then faces both the United States and North Korea next week.
Experts have tipped the group, Group C, to be the hardest to predict.
Not only is the US one of the most successful teams in past World Cup play, but North Korea’s rapid rise on the world stage makes it hard to know for sure just how strong the squad may be.
Sweden kicks off its quest for the title on Tuesday afternoon with a match against Colombia, in Leverkusen, Germany.
And while Sweden should have no trouble dispensing with the World Cup debutants, it’s worth remembering that Sweden has never won its first game in a World Cup competition.
On paper, Sweden should have a lock on Group C’s number two spot, which would put it through to the knockout phase. But as any veteran World Cup fan knows, anything can happen once the ball is in play.
In other qualifying groups, favourites include Germany, England, Brazil, Japan, Norway and France.
Watching the World Cup in Sweden
Sweden’s TV4 is broadcasting all of Sweden’s matches, as well as a host of other games throughout the tournament on its three main channels: TV4, TV4 Sport, and TV11.
Pre-game coverage of Sweden’s first match against Colombia starts at 2pm on Tuesday, June 28th on TV4, with the kick-off scheduled for 3pm.
The complete schedule of Sweden’s matches is as follows:
Tuesday June 28th, 3pm (TV4): Sweden v Colombia
Saturday July 2nd, 2pm (TV4): Sweden v North Korea
Wednesday July 6th, 8.45pm (TV4): Sweden v USA
For a complete schedule of TV4’s coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, check out the link below.