Swedes have a Lotta spirit

One of the abiding images of last year's FIFA Women's World Cup in China was a stunned Lotta Schelin crying her eyes out on the pitch in Tianjin after a loss, a win and a draw condemned the fancied Swedes to a first-round exit. Now, nearly a year on, the lanky striker is back in the northern coastal city keen to make amends.

"Going out early last year is a huge motivation for us now," Schelin, 24, told FIFA.com from the lobby of the team hotel in Tianjin. "We realise that we have a chance to set things right. We analysed certain things about our performance last year and we made changes. Now we are better for the experience."

Four years ago, the Gothenburg forward and 2006 Swedish player of the year was in the side that reached the semi-finals of Athens 2004, coming up just short of a spot on the podium. This year, her aim is to go back home with a medal for her efforts.

"We want a medal this time," said Schelin, who often draws comparisons to men's ace Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "The spirit in the team is very high and we have been playing very well in our recent friendly matches, so the belief is strong that we can go that extra step."

The Swedes, long-time powers in the women's game, are just back from an intensive training camp in Japan, where they were adjusting to the extreme temperatures of a Far Eastern summer. Schelin, who is likely to line up alongside veterans Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson in a three-pronged attack, thinks the team can finally overcome a troubling trend of losing openers.

Sweden have not won an opening match at a FIFA Women's World Cup in five tries, and have never won one at an Olympic finals.

"It really is a strange phenomenon," said Schelin, who pointed out that this year's team is a fine balance of youth and experience. "In Athens we lost to Japan and last year [in the World Cup] we lost to Nigeria. We should have won these games.

"Compared to previous years, this year we have had a lot of good friendly games against powerful opposition," she went on. "I think we can break the trend."

China await
The Swedes face a tough test in their opener, taking on hosts China in Tianjin. Even though the so-called Steel Roses appear to have been in decline for the last decade, the Swede knows the perils they pose. "It will be scary in the beginning," Schelin said. "But most of us are not worried about who we play. We are just excited to be playing a dream game like this, opening against the hosts in a packed stadium at a huge tournament.

"Of course we want to win that first game against China," she concluded, before adding: "but if we don't, well, we know how to respond!"

After their opening match, Schelin and Co take on Argentina in Tianjin before travelling to Beijing to finish up Group E against debutantes Canada.