After the foundation of the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) in 1904, the game grew quickly to become the country's most popular sport. In its first decades clubs were formed all over Sweden, and since then the SvFF motto has been "a club in every village". Today, with more than 3,300 teams in a land of nine million people, football is achieving that aim. Statistics show that every second boy and every fifth girl between the ages of seven and 14 play for a club.
The sport's development at youth level and the popularity of women's football are two reasons for the surge of interest. Women's football was introduced in 1970 when 728 players were registered, and today there are almost 70,000 participants aged 15 and over making the female game a significant force in Swedish sport.
Going back to the early days, Sweden played their first international on 12 July 1908, defeating Norway 11-3 in Gothenburg. Since then there have, not surprisingly, been highs and lows in sporting performance. Yet, for a small nation, the healthy number of highlights began with an Olympic bronze medal in 1924. Sweden have also featured in ten FIFA World Cup final tournaments, placing them among the all-time leading appearance makers.
The halcyon days of Swedish football came between 1948 and 1958. In 1948 Sweden won gold at the London Olympic Games. Bronze medals followed at both the 1950 World Cup in Brazil and the Helsinki Olympics of 1952. Then, in 1958, Sweden not only hosted the World Cup but also reached the final, losing 5-2 to a spectacular Brazilian team.
The early 1990s also brought success. Sweden got to the semi-finals of the 1992 UEFA European Championship on home soil, before finishing third at the World Cup in the United States two years later. Under the leadership of coaches Tommy Söderberg and Lars Lagerbäck, the national side or Blågult (blue and yellows) would qualify for five straight final tournaments from 2000 to 2008. Sweden made it past the group stage at three of those events, enhancing their achievement. After narrowly missing out on the 2010 World Cup, Lagerbäck stepped down after 12 years on the bench.
The women's team have also gained international honours. They were European champions in 1984, runners-up on three occasions – 1987, 1995 and 2001 – and third in 1989. The female side also came second at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, having been third in 1991. A significant date in Swedish football history is 19 April 1990 when Lennart Johansson – honorary president of the SvFF – was elected UEFA president. Mr Johansson's tenure coincided with a challenging period for European football, with the introduction of the UEFA Champions League being a key legacy of these years. Mr Johansson was, for a time, assisted by compatriot Lars-Christer Olsson, a former SvFF general secretary who succeeded Gerhard Aigner as UEFA chief executive.
Latterly the development of better training facilities has been a key target for the SvFF. In a country where football can only be played between April and November for climatic reasons, indoor facilities are vital if clubs and national teams are to have a chance of competing at the top international level. Therefore investment in indoor training halls and artificial pitches is being made a matter of priority. In this way Sweden hopes to record further football success in the future.
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