Following victory in the UEFA Women's European Championship Final against Norway, Germany's women's football team went to thank the fans who had come to support them: for Tina Theune-Meyer it was a final victory lap. The outgoing coach linked arms with her assistant Silvia Neid and toured around the stadium to enjoy the last moments of almost ten years of close cooperation.
In an interview with FIFA.com, Neid recalls this moving occasion: "It was sad and very emotional for me. For the first time, it really hit me that this would be the last time we would appear on the pitch together. I very much enjoyed the time we spent working together and really miss Tina, especially as we haven't seen each other for a while." After the UEFA Women's European Championship, Neid has the unenviable job of following in the footsteps of her all-conquering predecessor.
Her first real test will be on 1st September when Germany face Canada in Vancouver in the first of two friendlies against the North American side. "It is quite a different feeling to be in charge but I have known the players for many years and have even played alongside some of them so that makes the whole process a bit easier. I am delighted that the German Football Association (DFB) had sufficient confidence to entrust me with this role. After all, Germany are currently the top side in women's football."
Given the fact that Germany are the reigning FIFA Women's World and European champions, the former German international player with a total of 111 caps has a hard act to follow. "When you look at the situation realistically, you have to assume that this cannot go on forever and we have to expect to suffer defeats at some point. However, the DFB President Dr. Theo Zwanziger has told me that he knows we will not always be World and European champions. He emphasised the fact that titles were not all that mattered and that we had to continue to play attractive football."
Neid went on to describe her recipe for future success: "I am going to try to bring new talent into the team because we have a few players who are around 30 years old. The real trick is in being able to introduce younger players without pushing out established stars. I also have to ensure that the younger members of the team really enjoy the experience of playing at international level." Neid is starting from a position of strength but struck a note of warning: "We boast a number of talented players but they have to make sure that they become the real article. Some of them don't have the ambition to play and train at a high level and would prefer to concentrate on their careers or studies."
Positive developments in women's football
In contrast to former US coach April Heinrichs, Neid is pleased about recent developments in women's football: "It has not only become more technical and athletic in recent years, but also more tactical. It is logical that the game is becoming faster and there are more one-on-one duels. I think the developments in women's football have been positive and would say that we are on the right path. The more aggressive team generally wins and this, of course, requires physical contact."
The incoming German coach expects new teams to make waves in the next few years. "A lot of work is being done in Africa. For example, Nigeria really surprised me in the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. Their players are very fast and technically gifted. If they were able to improve the tactical side of their game, they would be a very hard team to beat. The USA have amazing young players that most coaches could only dream of. Brazil, China, Sweden and Norway cannot be underestimated, England have a good side and you can never write off the Canadians. Russia won the UEFA U-19 Women's European Championship and everyone will have to look out for them."
In Silvia Neid's opinion, the pressures facing Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby are much less daunting than in her case. "He is starting from a lower level and has room for improvement, while all I can do is to try to maintain the current standard. When you take charge of a side which has yet to win a title, you have nothing to lose."
Sweden optimistic about the future
Dennerby replaced long-serving Marika Domanski-Lyfors after the UEFA Women's European Championship and Sweden's coach of the year in 2004 has already one game under his belt in charge of Sweden's women. However, he had to settle for a disappointing 2-2 draw at home against Iceland in the first FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier, not an ideal start in his new role: "Iceland played well but we had a lot of chances to win the game and didn't put them away."
Dennerby is looking forward to the job in hand: "I am under a certain amount of pressure. Marika had a few marvellous years with the team and she has done a lot for Swedish football. The challenge for me is to do even better but I am not overly worried about the future," Dennerby told FIFA.com. "I will give 110% but I am not making any promises of success. I'll leave it to the politicians to make promises (laughs)."
He is aware of the uphill struggle faced by his German colleague: "Of course, things are even more difficult for her. How can you make improvements when you are World and European champs."
His first game in charge was a special experience for the 46-year-old: "I got a real buzz even though I've worked with the players as assistant coach since the beginning of the year." Dennerby has identified two aspects of the Swedish games he would like to improve. "We have to try to keep possession of the ball for longer when we are developing an attack from the back against strong defences." He would also like to prevent the strikers from being drawn too far back into defence: "We need to protect them so that they don't waste too much energy on defensive duties."
Dennerby is in constant contact with his predecessor Domanski-Lyfors who now coaches the national U-21 side. "Marika wished me all the best. She is a good friend of mine and we talk to each other all the time."
With a number of highly promising young players such as goalkeeper Hedwig Lindahl, Lotta Schelin or Carolin Seger, Sweden's ambition is to become number one in the world in the next few years. However, Dennerby knows that this will not be an easy task: "A lot of teams are biting at our heels and that means that we will have to work even harder to maintain our position. We are currently sixth in the World Ranking but we cannot afford to relax. There are a host of excellent sides out there and even Germany will have to watch their backs."