The northern European days are slowly but surely getting longer, and the air is losing its chill. It will soon be springtime everywhere, a time of reawakening and new starts, and women's football is no exception. Spring traditionally brings with it one of the most closely watched tournaments in the women's game, the Algarve Cup, to be held this year from 29 February to 7 March.
The 2012 edition is nothing less than a dress rehearsal for the teams set to contest the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in London this summer. Japan, USA and Sweden, the top three in the world based on last year's FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Germany, are the Olympic hopefuls represented in Portugal. In all, 12 national teams are battling to win the Algarve Cup, 11 of them hoping to topple holders USA from their throne.
Jessica Landstrom and her Sweden team-mates, who meet Germany, China PR and Iceland in Group A, have arrived in Portugal with their sights set high. Landstrom has played her club football in Germany for FFC Frankfurt since 2010, and is excited about facing one particular group opponent.
“Germany are a really good team, and I'm delighted we get to play them. I have any number of friends and team-mates there," she exclusively told FIFA.com. “China are really good too, and we lost against Iceland in the Algarve Cup last year, so we have to take revenge against them," the player smiled.
*Dress rehearsal for summer hopefuls *The Swedes finished fourth at last year's tournament in southern Portugal, after losing to Japan in the third-place play-off. Landstrom and company experienced a bitter taste of déjà vu in losing to the Japanese in the Germany 2011 semi-finals. The Scandinavians then overcame France in the match for third place, crowning a magnificent run at the global showdown with an Olympic berth.
I hope that we have a good spirit in the team, like we had during the World Cup.
“Straight after the World Cup, we started to focus on the Olympics," the 27-year-old revealed to FIFA.com. And Landstrom is well aware of the heightened expectation surrounding the Swedes since last summer. “I hope that we have a good spirit in the team, like we had during the World Cup. I think everybody gained a lot of experience. After our success at the World Cup, I’m sure we're not going into the tournament as underdogs. The other teams will see us as equal opponents."
There is certainly no danger of anyone underestimating the Swedes at London 2012. "People now know more about the way we play. But we also have more confidence. It’s going to be a good tournament. We have a stable team and a lot of seasoned, experienced players, who have been with the team for a while. To sum it up: Sweden have high expectations for this tournament," the striker confidently declared.
*Olympic spirit to the fore *Should the friendly and likeable forward earn a place in coach Thomas Dennerby’s Olympic squad, she will take part at the Games for the second time in her career. Landstrom believes the multi-sport festival is a unique and incomparable event. "It’s the Olympics! The whole world is watching. You’re there in the Olympic Village. I’m very proud I’ve been there once already, and I’m really hoping I’ll be able to go one more time."
The Sweden international named USA as her top favourites for the gold medal. Coach Pia Sundhage and her team qualified for London with their trademark blend of power, persistence and athleticism, but the Scandinavians are no mean opponents either and are afraid of no-one, Landstrom insisted.
"All the teams that have qualified are good. I focus on how we should play and not about ‘I don’t want to play against them, or them’. It doesn’t really matter. At such a high level, you have to perform at your best in every game,” she said, when asked if there were any opponents she would prefer to avoid at the preliminary stage.
*Dreams and targets *However, there are still many months to go until the big kick-off in Britain, and Landstrom’s immediate priorities lie elsewhere. The Algarve Cup comes first, followed by a host of matches with Frankfurt.
After a winter break lasting more than two months, the German Women's Bundesliga finally woke from its slumber last weekend. FFC opened their 2012 campaign with a convincing 4-0 victory over Locomotive Leipzig, clawing back some lost ground from leaders Potsdam in the process. The 27-year-old and her team-mates are in a promising position now as they step up their pursuit of silverware this term.
"We want to win everything,” the striker said, “it’s going to be a little bit harder right now, and we’ve put ourselves in a difficult situation. But we’re doing as much as we can. And for me personally, with half of the season over, I want to get more playing time. I want to play more and I want to score some goals.” The victory over Leipzig means Frankfurt are back on course, and although Landstrom herself did not feature in the game, her passion and enthusiasm remain undimmed.
"I am proud that I’m doing what I love the most, that I’m able to do it, and that I’ve put myself in this position,” she stated. “I train a lot, and I trust in myself. I’m proud that I play for one of the best clubs and that I’m in the Sweden team. I can just spend hours playing the game. I cannot explain it. For me it is something like meditation."
It is the kind of commitment and attitude that will surely see Landstrom continue to make a significant contribution in the months and years to come, both for her club and her country.