“Being able to travel through time”, was the answer Lara Dickenmann posted on her website when asked which superpower she would most like to have. And were this not beyond the realm of possibility, the midfielder’s first port of call would probably be this time next year, to see whether her country had qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.
The Swiss are not currently in danger of missing out on women's football’s flagship event, however, and remain firmly on course to qualify for their first-ever Women’s World Cup in North America next summer. In fact, the Eidgenossen are yet to lose a match in their qualifying campaign and occupy pole position in Group 3 after six matches. Their progress might have surprised many, but Dickenmann believes several key factors easily explain her country’s recent success.
“We have a very good coach and fantastic staff at our disposal," Dickenmann explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "Our previous coach was also very good, but now we have someone at the helm with international experience, great knowledge of the game and who has that German mentality. We can really go places with Martina Voss-Tecklenburg in charge.”
“The training centre we’ve had in Huttwil since 2004 is also of paramount importance. Lots of the good players who were developed there are now part of the national team set-up. We also have a lot of players who went to play overseas at a young age, where they train and play at a very high level on a daily basis.”
Dickenmann is one of those players who ventured abroad at an early age, the midfielder crossing the Atlantic in 2006 to play for USA side New Jersey Wildcats before later joining Jersey Sky Blue and Ohio State Buckeyes. The 28-year-old signed for French giants Lyon in October 2008 and has since helped the club to an impressive trophy haul of five league titles, two Cups and two UEFA Women's Champions Leagues.
Leadership qualities honed at Lyon
Dickenmann has also put in some wonderful performances in the red of the Nati, including her all-important equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Denmark and an impressive hat-trick in the 11-0 demolition of Malta propelling the Swiss towards their maiden Women's World Cup appearance.
“I’ve gained a lot of important experience from playing my club football at Olympique Lyon," said Dickenmann. "Winning prestigious titles such as the Champions League gives you a lot of self-confidence. The path to such titles is very specific, but it’s a path you can learn to navigate. I want to pass this experience onto the Swiss national team now.
Perhaps such a positive development will increase the interest in women’s football in Switzerland. These things don’t just happen overnight.
“There are three or four key players who automatically step up to the plate for Switzerland. I didn’t use to find that so easy. Now I have a much greater awareness of what I can say and how I can react in certain situations. The hierarchy that we now have in the Nati is very good. My role came about quite automatically. I don’t have to adapt in any way and I’m happy about that.”
Dickenmann’s leadership qualities will certainly be in great demand in the coming months as Switzerland look to maintain their lead in Group 3 and book their place at the Women's World Cup finals at the expense of their competitors.
'We still have a long way to go'
“The next crucial fixture is against Iceland (on 8 May) and we’ll need to be just as well prepared as we were against Denmark," Dickenmann said confidently. "It’ll be a tough match, but it’s one that we naturally want to win as the home team. We’d also hoped to secure three points against the Danes, though I think that we can live with the 1-1 draw.
"Now we want to get back to winning ways. I always take one game at a time and the next match is always the most important. We’re now all back on club duty and I’m just hoping that we don’t pick up any injuries. We’ll prepare ourselves well and we’ll go into the match with the best possible chance of picking up all three points.”
Boarding the plane to next summer’s finals in Canada would be “an absolute dream come true” for Dickenmann, but the midfielder is well aware of the size of task facing the Swiss in the remainder of their qualifying campaign. Nevertheless, she remains convinced that the Nati have the potential to compete with the top nations in women’s football in the near future.
“There’s definitely still a long way to go in Switzerland," Dickenmann explained. "It’s important that we manage to qualify for a major tournament this time around. We’re still about five years behind countries like France when it comes to football. The French national team frequently play in front of crowds of around 15,000 spectators. That didn’t use to be the case, but they regularly qualified for the major tournaments and picked up good results. This progress served to increase the interest in women’s football and that’s important.
“We know that the first step for us must be to qualify for a major tournament. Perhaps such a positive development will increase the interest in women’s football in Switzerland. These things don’t just happen overnight. For now we’ll just try to make it to the World Cup and to continue down that path. And who knows? Maybe we’ll end up being one of the regulars at the finals. That’d certainly change a few things.”