Annika Kukkonen is limbering up for her first final tournament with Finland but she will be on familiar territory at UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden.
The 23-year-old midfielder is currently in her third Damallsvenskan season, having won the league with FC Malmö, been relegated at Djurgårdens IF and then joined Sunnanå SK for 2013. She is also part of the new generation of Finland players under Andrée Jeglertz who will have a tough task matching their run to the 2005 semi-finals in England and the quarter-finals four years later on home soil. However, Kukkonen, ever-present in qualifying, believes she has developed as a player in Sweden and tells UEFA.com: "It's time for me to shine."
UEFA.com: Finland have done well at the last couple of tournaments. How far do you think you can go in Sweden?
Annika Kukkonen: I don't think we can set a concrete goal just yet. We'll do that closer to the tournament, when we can see which players are fit to play and who'll be going there. I do believe our success will continue. I believe we have the ability to do well in this tournament.
UEFA.com: Thinking back to qualifying, what were the key moments for Finland in making the finals?
Kukkonen: I'd say our away games. We had some great victories and won some important points. It's always hard to play the away games, tougher circumstances. Those were the deciding factor for us.
UEFA.com: In qualifying you started slowly and then improved, and that's been the case under Andrée Jeglertz generally. How do you sum him up as a coach? And did it take you time, as a team, to get used to his way of coaching?
Kukkonen: That's quite possible, as there was a new coach [from late 2009]. A lot of the players changed. Some older players who had massive roles in the team have quit. New players – and new ways of doing things – will obviously require time adjust to the game. With time we've come together as a team.
UEFA.com: You have quite a tough group, with Sweden, Denmark and Italy. What do you think of your three opponents?
Kukkonen: I'm extremely satisfied with the group, because we get to play Sweden, our beloved neighbouring country, and they will be our toughest opponent. But I think we've got good chances against all the teams, though I don't think anyone is necessarily expecting us to win looking at the rankings. So it's probably good to be the underdog.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to you to play in a final tournament?
Kukkonen: It's great. Because I live and play in Sweden, it's sort of time for me to shine. I actually hope there'll be quite a few eyes there watching. Also, to be able to represent Finland is always close to my heart.
UEFA.com: How have you developed by playing in the Swedish league?
Kukkonen: I've probably developed the most in my career by moving to Sweden. It's all done very professionally over there. There's time to get things right off the pitch. In Finland we only focused on what happened on the pitch, whereas in Sweden they look at the whole picture.
UEFA.com: You did not play in Finland in the finals four years ago, but did the tournament make an impression on you?
Kukkonen: I have really good memories. I was partially there analysing Finland's games, so I got to be quite closely involved with the team. It was so good to see the moments of happiness and joy in front of the home crowd – always a wonderful experience.
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