Denmark and Iceland, who both played in the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 knockout phase, were expected to dominate FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying Group 3 but instead Switzerland set the pace.
Switzerland, who have never reached a major finals, did make the 2011 World Cup play-offs where they beat Denmark – and they repeated that trick in Vejle in October having already won in Iceland and beaten Serbia 9-0. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the 2009 UEFA Women's Cup-winning coach with FCR 2001 Duisburg, took the Swiss helm early in 2012 and ahead of Wednesday's visit to Israel she spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: What is your aim for this tournament?
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg: The objective is for Switzerland to qualify for their first major championship. I joined as coach during EURO qualification – we still had a very small chance, but we didn't have any real influence. Now we've had one year's preparation to start a new campaign. I've had the chance to get to know the team and have made small changes to the philosophy.
We'd hoped for a good draw, to maybe not get too strong opponents, and that's what happened – avoiding countries like Germany, France and Sweden. Now we've played our first three matches and were better than many people might have expected. Our goal was to get three points from three games, but now we have nine. We have to consolidate that good start, and not relax but keep the momentum high and achieve something historic – participating at a finals for the first time.
UEFA.com: Do you consider yourself Group 3 favourites now?
Voss-Tecklenburg: No, there are still seven matches left and anything is possible in football. This is a new situation for us. We didn't start the campaign as favourites, but now that we lead the group on nine points we have something to lose. We need to have mental strength and deal with this pressure.
It is different being in pole position, from being able to attack from behind. I hope we can deal with it and that we've taken a step forward mentally too. I feel the team understand that it always takes 100%, against the supposedly weaker teams. If we manage to do that then we have a realistic chance. But Denmark and Iceland are both capable of winning all their remaining matches, and then it wouldn't be us going to the World Cup.
UEFA.com: In Lara Dickenmann, Ramona Bachmann, Ana Maria Crnogorčević and Vanessa Bürki, you have very strong players. What do you think these players can achieve? And the team overall?
Voss-Tecklenburg: I think three or four important things have happened. We know our attack has been good, but to get that quality to shine we needed to have the ball. That meant we had to work on being better in possession, so the high-quality forward players saw more of the ball. That was one aspect we have worked on and changed.
Then, apart from those four top players, we have a lot of youngsters who have gone abroad. Players like [Noelle] Maritz at [UEFA Women's] Champions League winners VfL Wolfsburg, and Lia Wälti at Turbine Potsdam. Others went to Italy, with [Gaëlle] Tahlmann and [Sandy] Mändly at Torres Calcio. Overall nine players played in the Champions League and that is immensely important experience [for a player], which then helps us improve the national team.
But the players in Switzerland have also developed, so we have improved as a team. We have more competition for places, greater motivation, and consequently better performances. We still need to become more stable and consistent in our displays. If we play at the level we can then we are a very good team – it will be difficult to beat us. But I am not sure we have that stability and consistency yet, which is an important factor. Secondly, I think the players recognise the chance they have to achieve something big. Vanessa Bürki said to me the other day: "What have I achieved so far? OK, I am playing at Bayern München and won the DFB Cup, but I can't say I've participated at a EURO or a World Cup. That's something I really want."
UEFA.com: You play Israel on Wednesday. You have to try to keep your feet on the ground, don't you?
Voss-Tecklenburg: Yes, but Israel have helped us because they won against Serbia – who had drawn 1-1 with Denmark. So we won't be underestimating them. We know how uncomfortable it can be, especially playing away. I think Switzerland played Israel three years ago and won only 1-0 there. So the players still have that in their heads, and these matches are ones we have to win. We need to be active there [in Israel] and not be sloppy or careless. We mustn't reach the point at the end [of qualification] where we have to say it didn't work out, not because we didn't beat Iceland or Denmark, but because we struggled against the other [so-called weaker] teams. That shouldn't happen; we have to work hard to prevent it happening.
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