Though regular qualifiers and invariably ranked among the favourites, Sweden have yet to win a major global competition. Lotta Schelin and her team-mates came close to putting that record straight at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, where they eventually had to make do with third place after an impressive run.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the Lyon forward reflected on the lessons of the past and voiced her optimism at Sweden’s chances of finally striking gold in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012.
“We know we haven’t been given an easy group, but we can beat Canada, even though they are a very good team and always perform well,” said Schelin, assessing one of Sweden’s opponents in Group F, which also features South Africa and Japan, the side she expects to push them hardest for first place in the section.
“We’re aware that whoever finishes third will still have a chance of going through, but our objective is to win all our matches.”
Coming as it does a little over a year after their semi-final defeat to the eventual world champions at Germany 2011, Sweden’s meeting with Japan presents the Scandinavians with an opportunity to exact some revenge.
“The Japanese are very strong, but when we played them we didn’t perform the way we had been doing earlier in the tournament,” explained the 28-year-old striker, reflecting on the fact that Sweden had as good a chance as ever of going all the way in Germany after having beaten the mighty USA in the group phase.
The Swedes’ momentum was checked, however, by injury to their midfield linchpin and skipper Caroline Seger, forcing her to pull out of the starting line-up just before kick-off in that fateful semi-final. Taking full advantage of Seger’s absence, Homare Sawa and Co then turned in a superb team display to win 3-1.
“They played a great game, but that was also because we weren’t 100 per cent and we lost our bearings a bit on the pitch,” lamented the Lyon player, who gained some consolation by helping the Swedes to victory in the match for third place against a France side containing several of her club colleagues.
Born in Trangsund, near Stockholm, Schelin nevertheless believes that Japan’s win was good for women’s football, and that the fact that a different team came through to claim the ultimate prize is an indication of how much the women’s game has improved.
Turning to Sweden’s hopes for London, she said: “That third place at the last World Cup has boosted our confidence going into the Olympics. Our performances there showed that we can beat the best. We used to beat the USA in friendlies but the fact that we defeated them in a World Cup changes a lot of things for us from a mental viewpoint. It’s in those kinds of tournaments that the real matches are played.”
Third time lucky?
Currently preparing for the third Olympics of her brilliant career, Schelin believes that the absence of Germany from London 2012 is another encouraging sign for the Swedes: “The Germans are very strong and they’ve often blocked our path. In 2008 we lost to them in extra time in the quarter-finals, and I almost felt a sense of relief when I found out they wouldn’t be there this year (laughs).
The Lyon star’s first appearance at the Games came in Athens eight years ago. “I’d only played four times for my country and I didn’t think I’d make the side,” she said. “There was another striker with a pretty similar game to me, but she got injured and the coach put her faith in me. I was only 20 and I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of it all.”
Since then Schelin has gone on to become one of the greatest players in the women’s game. Indeed, she has just enjoyed unquestionably the best season of her career, winning a historic French Cup, French league and UEFA Champions League treble with Lyon and scoring the small matter of 38 goals in the process.
The trip to London could hardly have come at a better time for the Swedish sensation, who is at the peak of her powers and has genuine designs on a place on the podium. “A medal would make all the difference,” she said. “We finished fourth in 2004 and nobody remembers that.”
Intent on making up for past disappointments, the determined Schelin has her sights set on one thing only: leaving London with a much coveted piece of gold hanging from her neck.