Sweden arrive at Euro 2013 with thumping win

Given how the Women’s European championships have been embraced by the people of Sweden it was a real disappointed to see their side struggle to live up to the heightened expectation in their opening encounter against Denmark – however any worries that the entire tournament would prove too much were quashed on Saturday night with a thumping win over Finland.

This tournament has achieved attention like none of its predecessors – with the amount of media present reaching an all-time high, whilst ticket sales have been of real encouragement. The success so far is in no small part down the successful organisation of the Swedes, with the decision to select slightly smaller seated stadia proving a real benefit to the overall atmosphere of the games. Perhaps though most encouraging is how the locals have taken the tournament – reports would suggest it’s hard to get away from the Women’s Euro’s in Sweden right now.

Of course this extensive interest has put vast pressure on the side of the host nation, so strong was investment in the team that prior to the Denmark game the Swedish papers were packed with little else in regards to sporting stories. Expectations had been further enhanced by a successful World Cup which saw them finish as the top European nation by clinching third spot, whilst their current World ranking of fifth can only be bettered by one other European nation; Germany.

The appointment of coach Pia Sundhage only raised expectations levels – a women who is an undisputed legend of Swedish football, having captained the side to success at this very tournament back in 1984. As well as that Sundhage has carved a hugely successful coaching career having lifted the Olympics twice with the USA – meaning much was expected when she made the return to her homeland. Further to this having gone through a slightly baron spell in the 00’s following the retirements of the influential Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson, a new generous of stars has emerged – most notably Lotta Schelin, a player dubbed the Leo Messi of Swedish football.

With such intense hope and expectations there was always going to be a danger of buckling and whilst in their opening game against Denmark the Swedes did pick up a point, there was a real sense that the occasion was almost too big for Sundhage’s side. In an intense atmosphere the Swedes despite a fairly encouraging start soon fell behind to the stubborn Danes – although things improved in the second half and an equalizer came, Sweden failed to find a winner and in the process remarkably missed two penalties. The first of those spot kicks was missed by an off colour Schelin, who struggled throughout to handle her pre-tournament billing.

Failing to find the winner in that game was an undoubted disappointment – however the second half did at least show signs that Sweden were starting to come to terms with the situation and in truth it is hard to not argue that they were unfortunate not to win. Another notable positive from what was a frustrating occasion was that Sweden’s other star name Caroline Seger was impressive throughout – expertly controlling the game from the midfield.

Any worries though that Sweden would do the unthinkable and exit their own tournament early were thankfully for the good of the tournament quashed on Saturday night – with the hosts showing their true colours with a 5-0 thumping of fellow Scandinavians Finland. Yes the Finn’s are the lowest ranked nation in the group but their opening game draw with the highly rated Italy highlighted how stubborn they could be – so there was certainly scope for another evening of frustration if Sundhage couldn’t generate a reaction out of her players. The required response though was delivered, with the Swedes never looking back from Nilla Fischer’s early strike, whilst two late strikes from Schelin will have done her confidence the world of good.

There will be far tougher challenges ahead, the first being a battle for top spot with the dangerous Italian’s, nevertheless in that win over Finland the Swedes were able to overcome some of the demon’s that can come as part of being the host nation. It is also worth pointing out that they were not alone in struggling with their opening fixture with Germany being held by The Netherlands and England losing to Spain – highlighting that finding your feet at major tournaments can be tough.

For the tournament as a whole the Swedes superb response to the Denmark disappointment can only be a good thing, given that the way the nation has taken to the Euro’s has really given it something extra. A successful host nation campaign is always a key ingredient to a good tournament and Sweden reaching the later stages would undoubtedly further enhance what has been an excellent tournament in regards to atmosphere and interest. If the form shown in that Finland game is anything to go by then the Swedish people could well be rewarded for the way they have embraced the tournament.