Sara Thunebro was one of many stars at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 to remain in Germany for the start of the new Women’s Bundesliga season five weeks later.
The Swedish international is an important figure for club side 1. FFC Frankfurt, to whom she returned with a bronze medal in tow. “I always knew that Sweden had a very good team,” said Thunebro in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “Of course every team needs a bit of luck during a tournament and every player has to perform at their best, but I always believed we would be successful.”
Thunebro was taking part in her second FIFA Women’s World Cup, but this summer’s edition in Germany was particularly memorable for the 32-year-old. “For me the World Cup in Germany was very special because it’s my second home. The way they organised the tournament was amazing. The stadiums were full for almost every match and we had the fans’ full support. Everything went smoothly, even outside the stadiums. I don’t think there will be another World Cup like it. It was simply the best.”
Of course, not all of Thunebro’s memories from the tournament were positive. "The defeat against Japan will always weigh heavy in my heart. It wasn’t so much the losing, it was more the way in which we lost. Something went wrong in that game, everything just went against us.”
The fact that Sweden bowed out to the eventual champions was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, according to the full-back: “Ahead of the World Cup I wouldn’t have guessed that Japan would win it. I was also surprised that Germany didn’t stay in the tournament longer.”
Women’s football in Sweden has undergone some considerable changes since Thunebro made her international debut in 2004. “Our national team was always decent, but we went through a couple of years where some of our best players began to retire and we brought in some new players who had developed really well. At the moment we feel very strong and I think we’ll be even stronger in two to three years’ time.”
Sweden’s impressive performance at Germany 2011 ensured their place at next year’s Women's Olympic Football Tournament in London, where they will doubtless rank among the favourites. “When the competition starts, every team has a chance of winning. If we can continue to develop our team spirit, I think we can do really well at the Olympics. It’s hard to say what will happen next year, but I believe in my team and my country.”
With the UEFA Women’s EURO to be held in Sweden a year later, Thunebro has every reason to carry on at the highest level. “It’s just amazing that we’re going to have such a great tournament in such a little country like Sweden. I’m really happy. It makes my goal of playing for the national team for two more years a lot easier. I would love to play in my own country and hopefully we can do as good a job as Germany did during the World Cup.”
Until then, Thunebro is fully focused on the current Bundesliga season with Frankfurt. The three-time UEFA Women’s Cup winners and seven-time national champions are determined to challenge titles on all three fronts again this term: Bundesliga, German Women’s Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“We have such a good team. Last year we came second and this season we want to do even better. It would be nonsense to say we want anything other than to win the league,” said the likeable defender, who is hoping the euphoria surrounding Germany 2011 will have a positive effect on the women’s domestic game: “I hope some of that enthusiasm carries over into the Bundesliga.”
If Frankfurt are indeed to challenge for domestic and European honours this season, they will need to find a way of compensating for the loss of legendary forward Birgit Prinz. “I’m really sad to lose a really good friend in the team, but I support her decision as a friend and as a team-mate. I’m pleased she was able to make a decision - I think she struggled a little bit,” concluded Thunebro who, along with all fans of the women's game, will certainly miss the three-time FIFA Women’s World Player.