The hopping, dancing and seemingly permanently smiling Swedish women's team give the impression of enjoying themselves every time they take to the field. Except when it comes to playing Japan. And with good reason too, as Thomas Dennerby's side still have a score to settle with their Asian counterparts.
Their Group F match at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament will be a repeat of the teams' semi-final showdown at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Frankfurt last year. Japan ran out 3-1 winners then and went on to be crowned world champions, while Sweden finished in third place. "It was a real shock for us. We still haven't forgotten it," Sweden's Linda Dahlkvist told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview ahead of the fixture in Coventry. "Meeting them again is our chance for revenge."
It is precisely that which has presented the Blagult with a minor dilemmafollowing their 4-1 victory over South Africa in their opening match. On the one hand they desire to continue playing with smiles on their faces, entertaining the fans in their quest for gold. On the other they are aware of the need to treat the game with deadly seriousness.
Dahlkvist believes their cheerfulness has led to the team being underestimated at times. "We like to laugh together and come up with funny goal celebrations, like the dance at the last World Cup or the domino effect here at the Olympics. But it's deceptive, because we are extremely ambitious, focused and determined."
Having played in last year's semi-final defeat, Dahlkvist knows first-hand that such qualities will be needed against the hard-running, technically gifted and compact world champions. "I enjoy watching them play, they have an attractive game," said the midfielder. "But I also enjoy playing against them. I love the 'we can do it' feeling. We want to play well against Japan and send out a message to the rest of the teams."
Such openness has won the Swedish women's team and the hearts of many fans. Yet it is their ambition and self-belief that has led the side, currently fourth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, back among the global elite.
For their part, the Japanese are also aware of the difficult task they face and do not see themselves as favourites to take the spoils. "We have a very tough challenge ahead of us," said goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto in interview with FIFA.com. "Sweden's players are all very big. Apart from that, in Lotta [Schelin] they have an unbelievably quick striker. We know what we're up against."
Japan are keeping their feet, as well as the ball, firmly on the ground at London 2012. Despite last year's FIFA Women's World Cup triumph, 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa and Co have retained their customary discipline. In the 2-1 win over Canada in their opening game, Japan's passing and movement appeared to have matured, while they remained as hungry for victory as ever.
"We’ve never won anything at an Olympic Games, not even a medal," experienced right-back Yukari Kinga told FIFA.com. "That’s why we're in the role of the challenger, even though we're the reigning world champions. We have to start from scratch again. Can we win gold? I think I should say yes."
One thing is already certain though: the attitudes of both teams, as different as they are, deserve to be rewarded.