For a nation inextricably linked with UEFA Women's EURO glory, Germany find themselves in unfamiliar territory ahead of their semi-final showdown with Sweden in Gothenburg on Wednesday.
Embracing the role of the underdog is a unique and somewhat challenging experience for the seven-time continental champions, not that a smiling Anja Mittag betrays any sign of fear; quite the opposite. Indeed, she compared Sweden's task to that of Germany two years ago, when on home soil they lost to eventual winners Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals.
"There was great relief after the Italy game and we have nothing to lose against Sweden, so we will enjoy the match," said the 28-year-old. "We don't have the pressure that we had two years ago at the World Cup. Now we will see if Sweden can handle it or not.
"I'm very much looking forward to the game," added Mittag, who is well-acquainted with her surroundings having left 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam for FC Malmö in 2011. "I would have preferred to play Sweden in the final but some things are not meant to be. We're not thinking about who are the favourites and outsiders. We want to enjoy the match and have fun with the ultimate goal of making it to the final."
For some players, the prospect of facing the hosts on home soil is enough to induce palpitations. Mittag, part of the winning squads in 2005 and 2009 that took Germany to five European titles in a row, nonetheless maintains an ice-cool countenance, preferring to focus on the positives of a vibrant atmosphere in which she can thrive.
"Generally Swedes are friendly people so I don't expect any booing, but of course they will cheer their team and sing their national anthem. But that's what the team and myself enjoy. It's nice to play in a stadium where everyone is against you," she said.
Germany will not only have to contend with a passionate home crowd but a Sweden team bristling with belief after they cut a silly swathe through quarter-final opponents Iceland to register an emphatic 4-0 triumph. Of all their attacking riches, Mittag pinpoints Schelin – the tournament's five-goal top scorer– as the one to stop.
"Lotta is a world-class striker, composed in the box and capable of scoring goals. We need to pay special attention to her," explained Mittag. "They are playing really well and it's difficult to find any weaknesses. It's getting really tough but with the technical players we have in our side, we always have a chance. We are used to winning and while we're not playing particularly well, we're in the semi-finals. That can only be a good thing."
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