It's hard to believe, but it’s true: Sweden, one of the genuinely established powers of the game, have never before sent a team to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. That's all about to change, however, as the UEFA European Championship runners-up take to the global stage for the first time just a few weeks from now. Unsurprisingly, Calle Barrling’s side travel to Germany with lofty ambitions.
"We’re proud and delighted that we’ve qualified at last," the coach told FIFA.com. "It's fair to say there’s even a slight sense of relief, as we’ve been through a few lows in Swedish women’s football in recent years, and that’s obviously hurt."
The current crop of Swedish youngsters will be doubly motivated when they take their turn against the global elite, as they are desperate to establish credentials in the youth development area to match previous achievements in the senior game.
"We’re on a roll and we’re bursting with energy," said Barrling, who is thoroughly looking forward to the showdown on the home patch of the current FIFA Women’s World Cup holders. "I have a team of winners, and I know my players are ready for this tremendous challenge. We won’t forget to enjoy it either, as it's the kind of thing you remember for the rest of your life."
However, Sweden have landed in arguably the tournament’s toughest group, with the sublimely skilled Brazilians, former winners Korea DPR and New Zealand, who are far from novices at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Barrling knows it will be a stern test for his inexperienced side, but the stoic Swede sees no reason to panic: "We’re in a really hard section, but it actually suits us. We’ve always played our best football against strong opponents."
The plan is to fall back on traditional Nordic virtues. "It's no secret that Swedish teams are always well-organised and strong in defence," Barrling said. My team is definitely no exception, but I think we’re also capable of good attacking play too."
And with good reason, as the Swedes made last year’s European Championship final before ultimately falling to England. The stand-out players were striker Sofia Jakobsson and defender Emilia Appelquist, something of an odd couple physically but certain to catch the eye in Germany.
"I’m a coach, so you’ll appreciate that every one of the players I have out on the field rates as important. But yes, these two could well have a significant impact," agreed Barrling, naming holders USA, hosts Germany, England, and a resurgent Japan as favourites for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Sweden will play in Bielefeld, the most northerly of the four venues for the tournament. That has pleased the Scandinavians. "It's fantastic we’re playing there, because maybe a few fans will choose to travel with us and support us," said Barrling. "Hey, it’s only a day’s journey by car from Sweden to Bielefeld!"
A statement of enthusiasm and anticipation if ever there was one.