With this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup fast approaching, Sweden’s players have more reason than most to be looking forward to the tournament kick off on 17 October. After all, United Arab Emirates 2013 marks the country’s maiden outing on the global stage at this level.
Aware that Sweden have participated at 11 FIFA World Cups™ and at one U-20 global showpiece, Isak Ssewankambo and Linus Wahlqvist are keen to showcase their talents to the football family too.
“It’ll be fun to visit the United Arab Emirates,” Wahlqvist told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “It’s a country I’ve never been to and somewhere I always wanted to visit. I can’t wait for it to start, as the best national teams in the world are there. It’ll be fun to see how both myself as a player and Sweden as a team stand up against the best players and sides in the world.”
His team-mate Ssewankambo is equally enthusiastic: “I’m really looking forward to playing against different teams from different continents.”
If Sweden's form at the UEFA European U-17 Championship in Slovakia is anything to go by, coach Roland Larsson's youngsters need have nothing to fear come October. Showing no signs of nerves at their inaugural continental U-17 campaign, Sweden stormed into the semi-finals, where they only lost to eventual champions Russia after a penalty shoot-out.
That backdrop, coupled with the winning mentality instilled in Ssewankambo at 2012 UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea, goes some way to explaining his unwavering self-confidence. "We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” the 17-year-old midfielder told FIFA.com. “We made it to the Euros, which was a big achievement and then we reached the semi-finals, and that was another huge success. I expect us to do well because we were good at the Euro. If we’re one of the best teams in Europe then I think we’re one of the best in the world as well. We can go all the way - why not? We have a good team and can achieve a lot.”
Wahlqvist, a defender for IFK Norrkoping, is not short of self-belief either: "The U-17 Euro was a completely new level for Swedish youth football and our performance was really good there, so I hope that we can do the same in the United Arab Emirates. We didn’t make it all the way in Slovakia so we’re aiming high at the World Cup.”
That self-confidence, as well as the youngsters’ impressive togetherness, has been one of the key ingredients of the Swedish U-17's success so far.
"We know each other so well," continued 16-year-old Wahlqvist. "Everyone is really good friends and we have fun together. On the pitch our team spirit is very special, we work so hard together in every game. Nobody is bigger than anyone else and we work as a team all the time. Our coaches are very important in that respect, as they do so much with scouting, injuries and the preparations for the games.”
Ssewankambo also emphasised the significance of the harmonious atmosphere in the side: “We’re very close, on and off the pitch. Every single player has a role and tries to help the team. Everyone’s part of it and that’s what makes us so good and has taken us so far.”
While appearing on the world stage is as yet unchartered territory for the young Swedes, there can be no doubt about their potential to compete with the best. If all goes to plan, Ssewankambo’s idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic might even be offering his congratulations come the end of the tournament.