While qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ enters the home straight in the men’s game, European zone qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ is just about to begin. A total of 42 teams spread across seven groups will compete for one of the continent’s eight available berths at the competition.
Switzerland's qualification aspirations will be tested to the limit after being drawn against Denmark, Iceland, Serbia, Israel and Malta in Group 3. “Denmark are definitely the best side in the group,” Switzerland national team coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “Their performances at the European Championship confirmed that. They’re very strong and flexible both technically and tactically, and have a good blend of experienced players and talented youngsters. Iceland’s athleticism and formidable team spirit are their main strengths, but I believe we can beat both of them on our day. Israel have improved a lot, like all the teams, although I don’t know that much about Malta yet.”
The same cannot be said about Serbia, against whom Voss-Tecklenburg’s charges kick off their qualifying campaign on Saturday. “Serbia made everyone sit up and take notice after their good results against England in qualifying for the European Championship and more recently against Scotland,” the former Germany international said. “Some of their players are starting to play abroad, like their striker Jovana Damnjanovic, who has joined Wolfsburg. I won’t be underestimating them at all.”
Nevertheless, Voss-Tecklenburg, a losing finalist at the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup, remains optimistic about her side’s prospects of qualifying for Canada 2015: “We want to challenge for top spot and we certainly have a good chance of doing that. We'll have to be at our best in every match, maybe we’ll need a little bit of luck and above all we could do without getting many injuries.”
Since taking charge of the side in February 2012, Voss-Tecklenburg has presided over significant improvements. "My impressions have been positive so far. The progress made in our performances, as well as in sporting and psychological terms, have been clear to see. The competitiveness and quality have improved within the squad and some young players have made the step up into the team. Besides that, youngsters like [Lia] Walti, [Noelle] Maritz, [Lara] Keller and [Jennifer] Oehrli have moved to the German Bundesliga. That will help them as individuals and us as a team."
Switzerland will also continue to benefit from Voss-Tecklenburg's extensive experience in the game. As a player the now 45-year-old won the German league title six times, the DFB-Pokal on four occasions and also helped Germany to a quartet of continental triumphs.
Step by step
Voss-Tecklenburg's success has continued as a coach. To date she has tasted DFB-Pokal glory twice, as well as lifting the UEFA Women's Cup, forerunner of the UEFA Women's Champions League. While taking charge of a national team broke new ground for her, she has a clear vision of how to tackle the challenges ahead.
"After my roles with regional teams and as a club coach in the Bundesliga, I've now got the chance to work on the international stage," Voss-Tecklenburg explained. "For me it was important to see if I could develop a national side. It's easier to do that at club level when you're with the squad every day than on the few occasions in the year when you come together as a national team. On top of that, I'm not just working as coach, but can also help improve women's football as a whole throughout Switzerland."
Despite the progress being made in the Alpine nation, Voss-Tecklenburg's ensemble are not yet a member of the world's elite. "We've still got a long way to go before that happens," she said. "However, I think that other countries with structures comparable to Switzerland's have already managed to beat one or two of the bigger sides. We want to improve little by little and then we'll see where that takes us." Qualifying for Canada 2015 would certainly be a step in the right direction.