For many of the competing nations, the 2013 editions of the Algarve and Cyprus Cups are nothing more or less than dress rehearsals for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 in Sweden. Many of the teams will use the traditional early spring tournaments as a gauge of fitness and tactical progress, to try out different formations, and to determine any weaknesses requiring remedial attention.
The Finland national team is no exception, as the Scandinavians are using their time at the Cyprus Cup from 4-14 March as an intense preparatory period for the summer showdown in Sweden.
"The Cyprus Cup is really important," Sanna Talonen exclusively told FIFA.com. "All the teams play this kind of tournament before the EURO so it’s really good practice. The games will be good and fast and we’ll face teams who’ll also be at the EURO. It’s important to play this kind of tournament to get used to the rhythm."
Finland have qualified for the Women’s EURO for the third time in succession, making the semis and quarter-finals respectively at the last two editions. It is clear evidence of the steady progress being made in the Finnish women’s game.
"Our league is more professional now. It’s not on the same level as in Sweden but it’s getting closer, and Andree [Jeglertz, Finland national coach] has done a great job," explained Linda Sallstrom, who plies her trade for Linkopings in the Damallsvenskan and operates as Talonen’s strike partner in the national team.
"We haven’t been that successful compared to Sweden in big championships. The people in Finland haven’t really got to grips with women’s football yet. It’s getting better every year, but there is still some way to go,” Sallstrom reflected.
Outcome remains wide open
When they contest the UEFA Women’s EURO from 10-28 July, the Scandinavians are hoping for a high-profile campaign, helping to win more support and build enthusiasm for the sport at home. However, Jeglertz’s side will have their work cut out after being drawn in a challenging Group A with hosts Sweden, Italy and Denmark.
"It’s a tough group," Talonen acknowledged. "But every group at the EURO is a tough one. It’s gonna be a lot of fun, because Denmark and Finland are close to Sweden, so a lot of people will come to see the games. Italy are always strong opponents to play against. But I think we have a good chance there."
It’s important to play this kind of tournament to get used to the rhythm.
Sallstrom was just as enthusiastic about the summer showdown and believes her team can do well: "If we play a really good game, we can beat any team in our group. This is our attitude in every game: We can’t have too much respect. They are all better ranked than us but I really feel we have a chance to qualify from our group."
However, when they set out on their quest for a place in the last eight in Sweden, the Finns will be without the player who finished top scorer at the last Cyprus Cup. Just hours after speaking to FIFA.com, Sallstrom sustained damage to an anterior cruciate ligament and now faces a long spell on the sidelines. It is a severe setback for the 24-year-old, who had only just returned from a similar injury and was well on the way to recovering peak form.
Dream of Canada
However, the striker is nothing if not a fighter, and there is no question of her throwing in the towel in the face of the repeat injury. She will do everything in her power to work her way back, initially at club level and then for the national team.
Like all her team-mates, she has one major target: the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, where the Finns are determined to make their maiden appearance at the biggest tournament in the women’s game. "All the focus is on the EURO. But after that, we’ll definitely turn our attention to the Women’s World Cup. It would be a big dream come true to play at a championship at that level,” said Sallstrom.
Team-mate Talonen echoed the sentiment: “Canada 2015 is important to us. We’ve never reached a World Cup before and it’s on our minds. But right now our focus is set on the EURO. We’re aware that qualification starts after that, and that’s another big goal for us. Qualifying would be our next step."
The draw for European Zone qualifying takes place on 16 April 2013, after which Finland will know who they must overcome to secure one of the eight precious berths in Canada. And in the period running up to the global match-up, fans in Finland will be rooting for Sallstrom to return fit and healthy as she seeks to realise her dream of a shot at global glory.