Back in the summer Pia Sundhage was celebrating her second consecutive Olympic gold medal as United States coach; next July she hopes to be a victor again with UEFA Women's EURO 2013 hosts Sweden.
Sundhage returned to her native Sweden in September after five years at the US helm having previously been China's assistant coach following a successful club career. A player in the Sweden side that won the inaugural European title in 1984 – a triumph they are yet to repeat – Sundhage is now preparing the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup bronze medallists to face Denmark, Finland and Italy in Group A from 10 July and speaks to UEFA.com about what she learned in the US and coming home.
UEFA.com: How are the preparations for EURO 2013 going?
Pia Sundhage: It's been absolutely wonderful. It's been a warm welcome, and the fact they're hosting the European Championship [in Sweden] is something special. I really can feel it, that it's something you are really looking forward to, and hopefully it'll be a great event.
UEFA.com: Was that your big incentive for coming back?
Sundhage: Correct. I've been very successful over in the States, but the fact Sweden is hosting the European Championship was, I would say, the reason why I wanted to come back home.
UEFA.com: How was that first game, beating Switzerland 3-0 in October?
Sundhage: It was OK. I think everybody was a little bit nervous and very excited of course, and sometimes you try too hard. But three nice goals and a great camp, good practices – it was a good start.
UEFA.com: How much did you really know about the team in depth, before you came and met up with them for the first time?
Sundhage: Well, I had a pretty good idea of what Sweden had. You know sometimes I try to swing by Sweden and get hold of what is going on in Sweden, because it is my home country. But now, when I have the chance to talk to the club coaches – which [is] very important, to work together – I get a better idea of what we have underneath the best players.
UEFA.com: How do you think you've changed or developed as a coach by experiencing China and then of course the United States?
Sundhage: Well, I think I am a better coach now, compared to five years ago, and you'll look at the standards, you know, being around Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone, Hope Solo. You look at the standards and everything is a little bit better. And tactically, being in the States has been fantastic. You get used to different things you can do on the bench, because you have so many players to choose between, and one thing specifically: players coming off the bench, they made the difference. That is something I've used with my staff and that is something I am looking forward to doing in Sweden as well.
UEFA.com: Is that about squad management too, because every time you played with the United States, you'd have someone like Megan Rapinoe on the bench, because you can only pick 11 players?
Sundhage: Well, it's about the team first of all. I think coaching is a little bit [about] making priorities and timing. So talking about Megan Rapinoe for instance: sometimes she is just brilliant, sometimes she is not so good. So you have to pick and choose when she is in the starting lineup, and when she is coming off the bench. What is interesting and very important is to make sure they get the feedback; the reason why they are sitting on the bench and what we expect from them coming off the bench. The best example is Alex Morgan during the World Cup 2011. She played her role – she was extraordinary. She played in such a good way, but then in the Olympics she was in the starting lineup. And yes, the year before made her a good player.
UEFA.com: How has the European game changed since you've been away?
Sundhage: I think it's a big difference. If you look in the world, you have more teams and the competition is almost tougher today. Five Nordic teams qualified for the European finals, and [all are] good teams. So I think all 12 teams have a chance to play the [EURO] final. Five years ago, ten years ago, that wasn't the case. And if you look in the world, who would think that Canada would win the bronze medal at the Olympics, or Japan would be in the finals, both 2011 and 2012. The development of women's football is so fast now; so let's say I went away for five years and come back, I would be old and done pretty much. So it is very exciting to be in the women's game today.
UEFA.com: Which team do you think has improved most since 2009 in Europe?
Sundhage: It's hard to tell, but if you look at Spain, youth football has been great for many years and now, if you look at some of the players, it looks interesting. So I would go for Spain.
UEFA.com: Was it pleasing for you, as a Swede, even though you were managing another team, to see them get 2011 World Cup bronze?
Sundhage: I would say that bronze medal in 2011 was very important. It is good for the confidence in the country, and as you know, when you play Olympics, or all tournaments, there is a very [fine line] between winning and losing. So it could have got a little bit better at the Olympics, but at the same time they qualified for the Olympics, and here we are at the European Championship, so hopefully we'll play some nice football.
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