On their way to the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, Sweden cruised through the group stages with some ease. On the receiving end of a 3-0 defeat from Hanna Ljungberg and Co were Nigeria, the Swedes' first opponents here at China 2007.
Four years might have passed but the Swedes remain among
the top teams in women's football, though they are undoubtedly
weakened by the absence of several regulars and by persisting
worries over the talismanic but injury-prone Ljungberg. The Super
Falcons on the other hand are going from strength to strength,
bolstered by a new generation of players of whom great things are
expected. The last match between these two teams brought a 2-1 win
for the Swedes at the 2004 Women's Olympic Football Tournament,
so all the signs point to an evenly-matched and entertaining
encounter at the Chengdu Sports Center Stadium on Tuesday.
With USA and Korea DPR also lurking, Group B is widely considered the tournament's most formidable and Nigeria and Sweden know that defeat would be costly to their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals. A win, on the other hand, would provide the perfect platform on which to build against the US and North Koreans. While Sweden's experience would seem to give them a slight edge on paper, the African champions are in buoyant mood and improving fast.
Nigeria have a fully-fit squad based around the players who reached the quarter-final of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Russia 2006, with much expected of winger Cynthia Uwak. Sweden will be without Caroline Jonsson, Josefine Oqvist and Frida Nordin, but coach Thomas Dennerby still has a strong squad from which to choose. That said, Ljungberg remains a doubt after suffering a minor setback this week as she battles to return from a succession of injuries.
The two teams were drawn in an identical group four years ago in USA and the Scandinavians ran out 3-0 winners. Sweden always seem to begin tournaments slowly, however, losing each of their FIFA Women's World Cup openers to date, a record that should give the Super Falcons hope. Nigeria are also the only African women's team to have beaten European opponents in a FIFA competition.
Ever since we arrived in China, everyone has been focusing on our opening match. In Beijing (at Sweden's pre-tournament training camp), the pitches weren't that high quality but despite that we improved with every session. My players can't wait to get started - Thomas Dennerby, Sweden coach
Sweden are a very good team; we know this. They beat us soundly four years ago at USA 2003, but we have learned a lot from what happened back then. We have a much stronger team here and some new, young talent that will give the Swedish a real run for their money - Effiom Ntiero, Nigeria coach