Sweden rank second only to Germany in the history of UEFA women's club competition, thanks largely to two-time champions Umeå IK, but their early elimination this season has left Linköpings FC flying the flag alone.
Next Wednesday Linköping welcome AC Sparta Praha for the first leg of their UEFA Women's Champions League round of 16 tie as they aim to get past the stage where they fell on their debut last season. The team's 21-year-old forward Kosovare Asllani, who recently rejoined them from Chicago Red Stars, spoke to UEFA.com about the challenge posed by the Czech champions.
UEFA.com: What are your thoughts ahead of the Sparta tie?
Kosovare Asllani: We're definitely not too confident about this match because Sparta are a really tough team to play against – I think something like nine of their eleven starting players are national team players. So it's going to be a really difficult game. When Sweden played against the Czech Republic a couple of months ago we drew 0-0 and they defended really well so it's going to be tough. We need to perform at our best but I hope we can get through.
UEFA.com: How far can you go?
Asllani: I really hope that we are able to go far. As long as we don't get a really tough draw like we got last year against Duisburg, I think we've got a good chance of going far in the competition.
UEFA.com: What is the importance of this competition?
Asllani: It's really important, it's the biggest thing for a club team. It's a really big thing to perform in. Everyone wants to play in a Champions League final too, so that's what I hope for.
UEFA.com: What did you learn from your European debut last year?
Asllani: We learnt a lot obviously because last year we didn't really know what to expect. It was the first year our team had played in the Champions League so now we know more about it and I'm just really excited to play in these games, because as a player you always want to play in the biggest games. I like the pressure too, if you lose you're gone and that's fun too.
UEFA.com Is there extra pressure to do well after losing your Swedish title this year and missing out on a 2011/12 European place?
Asllani: It's really important. Obviously we want to get to the quarter-finals first.
We came third in the Swedish league this year so we want to win this game and get into the quarter-finals so we have something to look forward to. We're all excited.
UEFA.com: What did you learn from your time in the United States?
Asllani: It was a really good experience. I learnt a lot there at a young age and playing in America is a huge thing, as a person and as a player, so I hope it will help me to become an even better player. Almost all of the best players play over there so you get a lot of experience and the football is totally different over there. It was a big difference for me but I learned a lot and I'm happy that I took the chance to play there at a young age.
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