Sweden striker Lotta Schelin has rightly earned herself a place among the star names in the women’s game, with much-praised appearances at the Athens and Beijing Olympic Football Tournaments in 2004 and 2008, and at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007™ in China.
However, if the 27-year-old had acted on the advice of her doctors during her teens, the world of football would have been deprived of her sparkling talent. As a teenager, she suffered severe back pain as a result of a rapid growth spurt, prompting doctors to recommend she give up the game. The deadly striker, a newly-crowned UEFA Champions League winner with French outfit Olympique Lyon, chose to ignore the medical advice - a wise decision as it turned out.
In Germany, Schelin will contest her second FIFA Women’s World Cup. She spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about her expectations of the tournament, the big names, and her rivals’ strengths.
FIFA.com: The FIFA Women's World Cup begins in just a few days. Do you have butterflies in your stomach?
Lotta Schelin: We’re all starting to feel them. I'm really, really excited. We've been together for a few days now and we're preparing intensively for the World Cup. I'm talking a lot at the moment with the players who are based in Germany. They're telling me the World Cup is a really big thing there. So we’re all starting to appreciate what it's going to be like.
What are you personally looking forward to most?
We have three games to play, and obviously, each of those matches will be tremendous. We know matches against the USA are always good, and lots of people come from Sweden specifically to watch these games. So, we’re looking forward to every match, but it's always a bit special against the US.
Sweden are in Group C with USA, Colombia and Korea DPR. You were also in a group with the US and the Koreans in 2007. Is that a good or a bad omen?
I think it's good. The two teams you mention made it to the quarter-finals at the last World Cup, but I think we're a better team this year and can get through ourselves. The smallest things make the difference. I hope we have luck on our side this time and make it to the quarter-finals. It would be magnificent, because we didn't make it at the last tournament.
How would you assess the strength of your group rivals in 2011?
It's a very strong group with three genuinely good opponents. We know a lot about the USA and North Korea because we've already played them, but we've yet to meet the Colombians. However, women's football in Colombia has come on a long way in recent years, and that makes them genuinely dangerous. We can't go into the first match thinking we just have to show up in order to win. We have a job to do, and we must do it well. We’re in a difficult group, but we have every chance.
You've often been hailed as the natural successor to Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson. How do you cope with that?
I don't find it a burden when people talk about Hannah and Victoria and compare me to them. I'm delighted with the position I play, and also that I've played with both in the past. I have a pretty good reputation myself nowadays, and I think people know what kind of player I am. But as a striker, you're always under pressure to score goals. I know I'm in good shape, and that'll help me deliver the goods.
How would you describe Ljungberg and Svensson? Are they role models for you?
Definitely. Both are fantastic footballers. Victoria Svensson and I combined well on the field, and I really miss playing with her. We had a lot of fun together. I'm aware of what both achieved for the women's game in Sweden. As I say, I had the opportunity to play with both, and I'm delighted about that.
Ahead of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Svensson told FIFA.com that you were one of the players likely to hit the headlines in the future. What's going to happen this year?
[Laughs] This will be my fifth tournament, so I know a little bit about what goes on. I'm aware of my own abilities, and I've played lots of important matches already, so none of this is new to me. Obviously, at the same time I'm hoping I can give 100 per cent in every match and maintain that level consistently. It's going to be a great tournament.
Thinking over the big names in Swedish women's football history, they're nearly all strikers. Would you say the Swedish game is especially attack-oriented?
No, I don't think so. We have a really good defensive line, and that's the platform for our excellent strikers. We work very hard, we're a group of good players, and plenty of them are great defenders. Normally, the defenders don't get talked about as much as the strikers, and that's the only difference.
How would you describe the mentality of the national team?
I'd say it's very good. We always work together as a team, and that makes us strong. Once you have genuine teamwork, everything is a possibility. Hopefully we'll continue our strong collective efforts in Germany.
You've said you’re looking to reach the quarter-finals at least. Could you go further than that?
Definitely. We have the players and we have the talent. We have a team which could go a very long way. We've spoken a lot about this, and we want to reach the last eight at the very least. That’s our top priority. We'll have to see what happens after that. We’re in a tough group, but we have to make a start somewhere. Anything could happen after that. Once you're through to the quarter-finals, you don't want it all to end there.
What are your thoughts on the hosts and FIFA Women's World Cup holders?
Germany are always strong, and it's always tough to play them. It'll be a terrific tournament for the Germans. They’re at home, which is fantastic for them. I genuinely hope they do well. But if we meet Germany in the final, we're not going to let them win [laughs].
What are your personal goals for 2011?
I'm really looking forward to this World Cup. At a World Cup, you're focused on your own performance and the performance of the team. I want the team to succeed, and I want to make my contribution to that, by scoring a goal or two and playing well. That's my main target.