Hosts face Germany tonight in semi-final
24 July ~ So far the 2013 Women's European Championship has been plain sailing for Sweden as they go undefeated into their semi-final against seven-time winners Germany. Played at a packed Gamla Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, tonight's encounter will be the first stern test of how Pia Sundhage's team cope when the pressure really is on. With the previous total attendance record, set at Euro 2009 in Finland, already well beaten – and all Sweden's matches selling out – the tournament has enjoyed centre stage in the Swedish media's sports coverage.
It has also affected the men's game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's whereabouts were briefly pushed out to the periphery, while traditional powerhouse IFK Gothenburg announced that this Sunday's Allsvenskan match against Helsingborg will push forward its kick-off in order to avoid clashing with the Euro 2013 final.
The root to this Euro frenzy can largely be traced to a change at the helm of the national team last year. After seven years coach Thomas Dennerby bowed out, and was replaced by Sundhage, a proven winner who had led the US to consecutive Olympic triumphs in 2008 and 2012. At the inaugural European Championship with Sweden in 1984, Sundhage was one of the true pioneers who battled against the prejudice facing the women's game; she later gained invaluable experience abroad in Italy, Norway and China as well as the US.
Her no-nonsense approach since her appointment as head coach of Sweden has involved creating a confident team that plays with pace and aggression. The fact that she is not reluctant to criticise her own players in public has also contributed to a more analytical coverage in the local media – in contrast to the relentless praise for everything yellow and blue that is the usual approach by journalists covering any event involving a Swedish national team.
During the 2003 World Cup, Sweden came to a standstill as 3.8 million people – close to half the population – watched the final between Germany and Sweden. Something similar is to be expected if Sweden manage to raise their game tonight and break a 18-year jinx in competitive matches against Germany, to set up an all-Scandinavian final against either Denmark or Norway at the 50,000 capacity Friends Arena. Henrik Manninen