Voss-Tecklenburg: We have everything to gain

"Happy” by Pharrell Williams was the hit of the year, making it practically impossible for any fan inside the stadiums in Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ to escape this catchy tune. The title of the track also neatly sums up the mood of Swiss national team coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg after the final draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ in Ottawa.

“Even as newcomers, we’re looking forward to the group,” she said, beaming. “We’ll be facing three teams who play in different ways. Now we can plan, so we’re relieved.” Switzerland’s potential to impress at this global showdown is clear given their strong qualifying performances.

The Eidgenossinnen were the first European side to book their World Cup ticket, even edging out group rivals Denmark – a side positioned above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. Reigning world champions Japan now await the tournament debutants in Group C, along with Cameroon and Ecuador.

“In qualifying I was impressed by our ability to deliver extremely consistent performances and dig deep at the right moments,” Voss-Tecklenburg explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “In some matches we had to take the game to the opposition throughout, while in others, such as against Denmark and Iceland, we weren’t favourites to win.”

A search for new challenges “To march through the group and end up with 28 points while scoring 53 goals and only conceding once was a surprise for me too,” the former German international continued. “We knew we had a lot of quality in our squad. We’ve got great players in attack, but our defence also showed how strong they are.”

This recent success has not happened by chance. In Voss-Tecklenburg, the Swiss have a coach who won numerous titles during her playing career and has continued this trend on the sidelines. Nevertheless, the 1995 World Cup runner-up has no interest in taking centre stage. “It’s never about one person or about the coach alone,” she explained. “It requires everybody else to walk in step together. As soon as I took the job, I said that we have talented players in Switzerland but that something had to change.”

Voss-Tecklenburg’s influence has changed not only the awareness of her players but also their readiness to step out of their comfort zone and seek new challenges. “Noelle Maritz, for example, went to Wolfsburg aged 17,” she said. “That’s not something to be taken lightly.

"The players have taken huge strides to increase their awareness even though there are risks involved. If they then deliver strong performances for their clubs, what they achieve gives us another huge boost at international level,” said the four-time European champion, who turns 47 on 22 December, when recounting the story of her team’s success.

“Just as important was the fact that players in Switzerland realised that they had a huge amount of acceptance within the team and had an important role to play,” she went on. “They realised they could achieve the same things, just in a different setting. The squad have relied on each other and helped one another.”

Switzerland will benefit from the wealth of experience offered by their approachable coach, who can reflect on three World Cup campaigns as a player in 1991, 1995 and 1999. With these memories to draw upon, Voss-Tecklenburg will no doubt be able to send her team out with the right words ringing in their ears before each match – even though the difference between her era and today’s Women’s World Cup could not be any greater.

Women’s football still has a long way to go “We have many more teams who can play at a very high and professional level,” she reflects. “Media acceptance and spectator interest in the World Cup has changed enormously in a positive way, not least because the sporting performances have come on so far.

"At the 1991 World Cup, I had such terribly sore muscles after our third match that I couldn’t move. Going out onto the pitch was almost agony. Things are totally different these days. The professional setup, the seriousness, the support, whether from FIFA or the national football associations, has completely changed. Having said that, women’s football still has a long way to go. We can still keep improving both athletically and in terms of playing tempo.”

Voss-Tecklenburg sees Stephanie Roche’s achievement as the first woman to be named in the final shortlist for the FIFA Puskás Award for the best goal of the year as confirmation of this progress. “For me, the fact that there are now votes for FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year or FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football, or even a woman nominated for the Puskás Award, are all important moments that send out a message,” she says. “The message is that we’re gaining greater respect. These are vital steps in the development of women’s football, because they give us a media presence and get us noticed.”

Perhaps one day one of her players – or even Voss-Tecklenburg herself – will be on the shortlist for one of the aforementioned awards, but for now Switzerland are on the right track. “We’ve already managed the most important part – being among the 24 nations to take part in this World Cup,” she points out. “We have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If I can get the players to internalise that feeling, then we’ll be capable of some very strong performances.”