Eriksson: Pernille is a big reason I’ve come this far
Magdalena Eriksson a key player in Sweden’s run to the Olympic gold medal match
She's using a crushing UWCL final defeat with Chelsea as motivation at Tokyo 2020
Eriksson also tells us about partner Pernille Harder’s influence and her plans to return to Japan
A story is only as good as its ending, and while Magdalena Eriksson is an avid reader, it’s a painful recent football experience that imparted that lesson.
The Sweden stalwart arrived in Japan having captained Chelsea through a remarkable, record-breaking season in which they retained the English title and went all the way to the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. But the dream of that European showpiece descended into a nightmare, with four early Barça goals inflicting a humbling defeat to conclude a momentous campaign on the flattest of notes.
Eriksson is well aware, therefore, that Sweden’s run to the Olympic decider – impressive as it has been - will be tarnished and diminished if they fall short when it matters most.
“That Champions League final has been my big motivation all the way through this tournament,” she told FIFA.com “I’ve been using the disappointment of that game to push me on that little bit extra. It was heartbreaking, having had such a good season, for it to end that way.
“But you learn from those tough experiences, and I’m so buzzed to go into another massive final so soon. It’s another chance to achieve something special.”
A vacant throne beckons
Whichever team wins gold will be assured not just of that, but of a place in history. Only three nations have ever won this tournament, after all, and neither Sweden nor Canada appear on that small and exclusive list.
USA alone account for two thirds of the entries, with the reigning world champions having topped the Olympic podium in four of the competition’s previous six editions. But despite the Americans’ recent and historic dominance of the women’s game, Eriksson did not share the sense of shock at their semi-final loss.
“I kind of saw it coming; I think a lot of girls in our team did,” said the defender, who helped Sweden to a 3-0 opening-match win over the Americans. “Canada are quite similar to us; they’re a unit, strong and united as a group. They’re really difficult to break down, and that defensive stability is so important at a tournament like this.
“The US are still a great team, and this is just one tournament, so I don’t think we can say there has been a power shift at this stage. But things could be changing, and I think it will be tougher for them to stay on top. Football in Europe especially is growing so much, and so fast, and it’s only going to get stronger. There are European teams who’ve not even qualified – France, Germany – who would be challenging to win gold if they’d been here.”
Hard without Harder
The Germans, gold medalists in 2016, have Sweden to blame for their absence, having missed out due to a 2-1 quarter-final defeat at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. Canada also exited at the hands of Eriksson and Co in France, and it was after beating Friday’s opponents that the centre-half became an unintentional social media sensation.
When a now-famous photograph of her post-match kiss with Pernille Harder went viral, it propelled the pair’s relationship into the limelight and the women themselves into roles as LGBTQ+ campaigners. There are no such tender moments in Tokyo, however, with family, friends and fans all missing – and missed – from an otherwise excellent Games.
“That’s my only regret here: not having fans, and not being able to share these fantastic moments with the people I love,” said Eriksson. “But whether she’s with me in person or not, Pernille is always my support.
“I offload my emotions on her all the time and the great thing about her is that she knows exactly what I’m going through because she’s experienced it too: the expectations, the pressure and all the other stuff and challenges that come your way. She’s such a great and supportive person to speak to and it helps that she’s not connected to the group, so I can tell her anything. She’s a big reason I’ve come this far in my career.”
Harder will also be lamenting her absence from Tokyo, having told FIFA.com how much she enjoyed following Eriksson’s adventures in France. It seems, however, that Chelsea’s Danish star will be visiting Japan soon enough, with her partner’s frustration at admiring the country through a window having led to firm declaration.
“I’m definitely coming back to Japan when Covid isn’t a factor anymore,” Eriksson explained. “I love Japanese culture and food, and the people here are amazing – so friendly, so nice.
“But although I can see how amazing and beautiful the country is, we haven’t been able to go out and experience any of it. So I’m coming back here on holiday for sure. This experience has only made me more determined to do that as soon as I can.”
And who knows? Perhaps she will be able to combine Japanese beauty spots with a pilgrimage to the scene of her - and Sweden’s – first global gold. For Eriksson, there can be no other outcome.
“We’re not just happy reaching the final this time,” she said. “It’s got to be gold for us, and we’re not shy about saying that. That’s been our attitude right through this tournament and I think it’s showed.”
As the only team at these Olympics to rack up five wins from five and negotiate both knockout matches in 90 minutes, whatever Sweden are doing is working flawlessly. A place in the history books, and the happiest of endings to their Tokyo 2020 story, is now just one step away.