When Anja Mittag missed out on a place in Germany's squad for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, it could have signalled the end of her international career. Instead, shortly after watching her team-mates unexpectedly falter at the quarter-final stage on home soil, the forward opted for exile, leaving the cosy confines of 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam – her home for some nine years – to join Swedish outfit FC Malmö.
"It was good to do something different and leave Germany," said Mittag, who now finds herself as comfortable in the familiar surroundings of the national squad's base camp in Vaxjo as with the friendly faces she has been reunited with after finding her way back into Silvia Neid's squad. "It's great, because it's like being at home. I understand the language and things aren't strange for me; it's something special."
Though Neid acknowledged that she "likes Mittag as a player", her decision to welcome the unassuming 28-year-old back into the fold went beyond a mere question of talent. "She wasn't in good shape then, and she is now," explained the coach. "She's a much better player now." Mittag attributes the improvement to her radical change of scenery.
"I've become a little more self-confident and now approach things quite differently," said Mittag, who has reaped the dividends of Malmö's appointment of a specific coach for the club's strikers. "I have worked on my finishing and, through that, taken a big step forward. I now think a little less in front of goal."
The lack of reflection has brought an abundance of success. In her maiden season on the south-west coast of Sweden, Mittag's 21 goals brought her the crown of the Damallsvenskan's leading scorer and best player – even if the league title escaped her club.
Neid will be hoping the Chemnitz-born forward can transpose that form onto the international stage, starting against the Netherlands in UEFA Women's EURO 2013 Group B on Thursday, when Mittag's sense of being at home will be heightened by the presence of Malmö team-mate Manon Melis in the opposition ranks. "We've already talked about the match," Mittag said. "I'll undoubtedly send a text to her before the game. We joked that we'd exchange shirts afterwards."
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