The battle for places at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ in Germany is entering its decisive phase in Europe. The first round of play-off matches has already taken place, and Sweden are daring to dream of a sixth consecutive appearance at the finals. Indeed, the Scandinavians are yet to miss out on a FIFA Women's World Cup.
"Of course we were relieved to have secured our berth in the play-offs, but to be honest, this is where it really gets going. All the teams who have made it this far are in the same situation. You have to perform at your best; the time has come!" said Sweden national coach Thomas Dennerby in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com ahead of his side's crucial play-off second leg against Denmark. "We're among the favourites in the play-offs, that's no secret," he continued. "After a few difficult years in Swedish football, I hope we're back on the right track."
Dennerby's words were backed up with a victorious display on Saturday as Sweden ran out 2-1 first-leg winners against the Danes, Linda Forsberg and Lotta Schelin scoring the all-important goals. "It's hugely important for us to qualify for the Women's World Cup in Germany. If we don't manage it, we won't have the chance to play at the Olympics in 2012 either. There's no doubt about it, we're under pressure," said Dennerby. "Still, I don't want my players to be confronted by those thoughts the entire time." The Swedes certainly still have work to do, especially after Paaske Sorensen's away goal in the first leg left Denmark needing just a 1-0 win on home soil to snatch a place at Germany 2011 from under their rivals' noses.
Based on their performances in the group stage, Dennerby is nonetheless confident his charges can extinguish any hopes of a Danish fightback in the return leg. "We had some good games in European qualifying, but also a few that weren't so good. As usual we were strong at the back, but we did have problems scoring goals, especially against teams that sat deep. In that respect, I think the play-offs should be an advantage for us because there are no teams left who will sit back in their own halves. Our strengths will show, particularly our ability to win the ball back and switch quickly from defence to attack. I've got some great counter-attacking players in my squad," he told FIFA.com.
"At major tournaments like European Championships, World Cups and even the Olympic Games, you have to be playing at your very peak to stand any chance of winning the title. I think we can look back back on this as our best year in a long time. I actually believe my squad is the best national team we've ever had."
Sweden's latest crop of talent are now aiming to emulate the successes of their predecessors by reaching their sixth consecutive tournament. "It's right to say that we've had a generational changeover in our squad. Many people still think about players like Victoria Svensson and Hanna Ljungberg when they think of the Swedish women's team. They think of the 2003 Women's World Cup in the USA when we narrowly lost to Germany in the final. Now it's time for the next generation. We have several top-quality players," concluded Dennerby, who knows that it will be all or nothing in the return leg against the Danes in Vejle.