Sweeping her blonde plait across her shoulder, Elin Karlsson smiles at her brunette team-mate Nellie. The Sweden defenders possess few physical similarities, yet have more in common than revealed on the surface; they're twins.
"We don't look alike," Elin says, her blue eyes contrasting with her sister's brown ones, "and Nellie is left-footed whereas I'm right. But we are extremely close. Nellie plays on the left side of defence and I am in the middle, so we couldn't be any closer, even on the field."
The pair began playing football aged six. At club level, both began in the fourth division in their local district league before Nellie was promoted to the second tier. Naturally, Elin followed. "We definitely have a connection which is stronger than average sisters," Nellie says. "When I suffered a bad knee injury, which kept me out for about a year, I could see it affected Elin too."
Elin concurs: "Definitely. It was awful going to training without her, and knowing she could only watch from the stands at games. I think even at the start I noticed a dip in my own form, but we're twice as strong when we're each doing well, because we support each other, so it works both ways."
They have only played against one another on one occasion – and decided it was a situation to be avoided at all costs. "I was still playing as a forward," Nellie recalls. "It must have been when we were about 13. It wasn't a great experience! It's impossible not to feel for a losing team when your twin's on it, or to be too happy if it is the other way around!"
For Elin, who linked up with the squad in September, the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship is her first finals. Nellie, however, is a veteran, having also featured in the 2013 tournament. "Nellie was in Wales for the finals last year," Elin says. "I was so proud of her contribution. I really wanted to experience it for myself, so when I joined up with the squad I made it an early ambition of mine."
Following the elite round and a memorable victory over holders France, Elin asked her sister for tips on what to expect during the finals. "She told me a lot about what would happen and what the environment is like," Elin explains. "She said it's a lovely and friendly experience, but the challenges are tough and that's exactly as I have found it. There's a lot at stake when you get to this stage."
Sweden's 2-0 victory over England in the opening game was somewhat countered by their 2-0 loss to Spain on Friday. Their final Group B showdown against leaders the Republic of Ireland – a must win game for both – may be the strongest test yet. "I think Ireland will be tough," Nellie says. "They also have a lot of pressure still on them. We have to win by two goals and I think we can."
Elin agrees: "Our first two games were difficult, I think we had the margins with us in the England game, we had the edge, but Spain were better opposition than England. We definitely have more to show on Monday."
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