Tight race for the last European Olympic spot
Excitement and close-fought matches are guaranteed as four teams inside the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking top 20 prepare to battle it out for the last available place in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Rio 2016 in a mini-tournament held in the Netherlands between 2 and 9 March. Ranked eighth, tenth, 12th and 20th respectively, Sweden, Norway, the hosts and Switzerland have qualification firmly in their sights as they seek to join Germany and France as Europe’s representatives in Brazil this summer.
The Scandinavians travel to Rotterdam with vast tournament experience under their belts. Like Norway, Sweden have competed at every FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and have yet to miss an edition of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Although their neighbours missed out on the 2004 and 2012 competitions in Athens and London, their Sydney 2000 gold-medal triumph makes them the only European team to have tasted Olympic victory.
Will experience make the difference? “Competing at the Olympics was the biggest moment in my career, and I’d give anything to experience that again,” said Norwegian sharpshooter Elise Thorsnes in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “As one of our oldest and most experienced players, this is my last chance to go to the Olympic Games again. I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
Thorsnes is expected to provide an attacking threat alongside on-fire striker Ada Hegerberg, while seasoned internationals such as Trine Ronning and Maren Mjelde lead the line in defence.
Sweden’s ranks also boast a vast array of expertise. Having already clinched gold with USA on two previous occasions, coach Pia Sundhage has a first-class squad at her disposal once again. Nilla Fischer is widely regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, while Lotta Schelin is the country’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Women’s World Cup debutantes vie for Olympic ticket It remains to be seen whether this experience will give the Scandinavian duo the edge. Although neither the Netherlands nor Switzerland have ever competed at a Women’s Olympic Football Tournament before, their Women’s World Cup debuts last year proved that they can pose a serious threat to any team’s qualification hopes.
The Swiss are determined to sustain their momentum after storming to a series of resounding victories in their UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 qualifying campaign. “I hope we can take what was an amazing 2015 for women’s football in Switzerland and use it to produce positive performances,” national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg explained in an interview with FIFA.com.
“We’ve become sharper and stronger. We want to be proactive, rise to the challenge and play our game,” she added. “Many of our players who compete in the Bundesliga have matured enormously and put their heart and soul into their performances each and every week.”
As hosts, the Netherlands also have an ace up their sleeves as they seek to make the most of the opportunity to play on home turf, and will be counting on their fans' support to help motivate them to crucial victories. Nineteen-year-old Bayern Munich striker Vivianne Miedema, dubbed the ‘Dutch Messi’, will spearhead the Oranje attack, while defender Mandy van den Berg put pen to paper for Liverpool at the start of the year.
“After the World Cup we said to each other: ‘We’re not done yet’,” Van den Berg told the OnsOranje website. “Since then our new target has been to qualify for the Olympic Games, and we’ve worked hard on that over the past few months. While there’s no doubt that playing at the EUROs or World Cup is great, the Olympics are every athlete’s ultimate dream.”
By 9 March we will discover which of these four teams will get to live out that dream.