After conquering Europe twice with Umeå IK and collecting six Swedish championship medals, Anna Paulson has had to adjust to her club's straitened circumstances. Yet she is looking forward to this week's UEFA Women's Champions League qualifying round with optimism.
Umeå lie eighth in the Damallsvenskan as they turn their thoughts to Europe and, given the recent exodus of key players, Paulson knows it would be foolish to target another continental crown. However, a place in the last eight should not be beyond them, as she told UEFA.com: "We're looking forward to the qualifiers. We want to stay in the competition until the end of the year, to the quarter-final stage. After that we'll set ourselves a new target."
Umeå lost Brazilian international Elaine, Japan's Mami Yamaguchi, Swiss starlet Ramona Bachmann and Sweden stalwarts Hanna Ljungberg and Lisa Dahlkvist last year. In 2008 they saw multiple FIFA World Player of the Year Marta move to the United States, while this summer defender Frida Östberg announced her retirement. Their places have mostly been filled by young local talent. In this context Umeå's lowly position in their domestic championship is not surprising.
"Of course it's a change. I'm used to winning and winning big. It's a tough mental adaption," said Paulson. Capped 45 times by Sweden, the 26-year-old full-back is one of few survivors of Umeå's golden years – a status that brings added responsibility. "I try to lead by example," she explained. "To show the way by always going into every match with a 100% attitude. Perhaps I have more of the ball nowadays too."
The new times at Umeå may mean fewer trophies in the cabinet but it is not all negative. "Personally I feel it's more fun than ever. We have to fight a lot more as suddenly we're underdogs," said Paulson. In Cyprus, though, the Swedish side will temporarily regain their former billing as favourites when they take on ASA Tel-Aviv, WFC SFK 2000 Sarajevo and hosts Apollon Limassol LFC. "We're hoping for a fun week. Our aim is to get our attack working; we've had some problems scoring. Winning these matches is important. We're looking for a good start to the autumn."
Umeå reached the qualifiers by finishing second in Sweden last year. A repeat is not likely this term, given they trail pacesetters LdB Malmö FC by 23 points. But Paulson remains positive. "We've got a young team where many players are making quick progress. It's a step-by-step journey. I think we'll be back to challenging seriously in two years."
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