Having guided his squad into the quarter-finals of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ as Group C winners, Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby expects some of his experienced crop of players to really come into their own, starting against Norway in Helsinki on Friday.
Two wins and a draw from three matches realised Dennerby's first objective of progressing from a section which featured Italy, England and Russia. With that accomplished, the 50-year-old is looking to the senior figures in his party to come to the fore now that the pressure of knockout football is upon them, and he has witnessed enough in training to know his charges will not leave him wanting.
"When we were in the group stage, we had plans to go through and for the most experienced players like Victoria [Sandell Svensson] and Lotta [Schelin], it is really starting now," said Dennerby, who took over after Norway defeated Sweden in the semi-final of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™. "I got the feeling that when I took the training session today there was a good feeling among the players."
While Sweden have won three of the last four friendlies between the countries, Norway hold the whip hand when the stakes have been at their highest, winning 3-2 in the 2005 semi-final and triumphing in the last eight of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. Six players who were in Sweden's squad four years ago are present in Finland, yet the coach is averse to viewing this as a chance to exact revenge. "We are not looking as far back as the game four years ago," he said. "Maybe five or six players played in that game but it's a new Swedish team now and I don't think my players will think about it much."
Norway progressed as one of the two best third-placed teams and following a year in which they have won only three of their matches, coach Bjarne Berntsen acknowledges his side will have to "play the best we have in the tournament if we are to have a chance of reaching the semi-final". Nevertheless, Berntsen – who will step down after the finals – is taking solace from the last meeting of the teams when, on 19 August, Norway inflicted Sweden's first loss of 2009.
"We needed that result much more than Sweden did and maybe that was reflected in how the game went – that we were at 100 per cent and they were at 90 to 95," said Berntsen of the 1-0 win. "They have had some good results this year and perhaps it was a wake-up call for them. They started very well in the first game [against Russia] but it was good for us because it showed we can compete with the best teams and it showed Sweden they have to work very hard to get results."
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