Sweden’s Lina Nilsson and Norwegian Elise Thorsnes have several things in common. Both represent their national teams, wear the No.16 shirt, played at the FIFA Women’s World Cups™ in 2011 and 2015 and have participated in a Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Nilsson was in the Swedish squad for London 2012 while Thorsnes played for Norway at Beijing 2008 – an honour neither of them will ever forget.

“Being able to take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London was a unique experience,” recalled the Swede. “It’s a big tournament and I’m very proud to have been part of it.” The Norwegian striker echoed her view. “It was the coolest thing that’s happened in my career so far,” she said. “When we were walking around Beijing, for example, everyone knew we were athletes and wanted our autographs. That’s unusual, particularly in women’s football.”

Focusing on strengths and exploiting weaknesses
Listening to their stories, it is no surprise to learn that both players also share the common goal of reaching the Olympics again. The pair will discover whether the dream will come true for either of them at the qualification tournament in the Netherlands between 2 and 9 March, as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and their Dutch hosts battle it out for the final place at Rio 2016. Nilsson and Thorsnes will go toe-to-toe in their first match knowing that only a win will do.

“There’s no doubt that the first game is important,” said Nilsson, “but we mustn’t forget that Switzerland and the Netherlands are also very good teams. Norway have good players and work together as a unit. We can’t focus on just one or two individuals [Editor's note: such as Ada Hegerberg or Elise Thorsnes]. We have to think about the entire team and their strengths while at the same time trying to exploit their weaknesses.”

Thorsnes is also keeping her cards close to her chest ahead of the encounter. “We’re generally focusing on our game rather than individual players,” she explained. “We’re always strong against Sweden. I think we have a psychological advantage. We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and study the footage of their most recent matches, of course. We’re up to the task,” she concluded confidently.

'It will be a close race'
With two further games to play after their Scandinavian showdown, victory in the opening match would only be the first step on the road to Rio. “I think it’ll be very tough and a close race,” said the Norwegian midfielder. “We’re all similarly strong, so each of us will have to be in absolute top form. We’ll definitely need a dash of good luck too and will have to prepare well for each fixture. We’ve got plenty of key players who’ll need to be at their best for us to reach our goal,” she continued. “We’ve worked so hard to win this short tournament.”

The Swedish defender also expects their rivals from Switzerland and the Netherlands to compete on an equal footing. “We’ve already played both sides and they really are very good,” she confirmed. “We’ll have to play at our highest level against them both. It’ll be a difficult but inspiring week for us. With four very strong teams and just one place up for grabs, one goal could mean the difference between going to Rio and going home empty-handed. It’ll ultimately come down to which team can deliver the most consistent performances.”

The stage is set, then, for several fascinating duels in Rotterdam and The Hague – and Nilsson and Thorsnes are fully aware that none of the teams can afford to slip up.