Sweden striker Victoria Svensson has declared she is back to full fitness ahead of Saturday's crucial FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, telling uefa.com she hopes to enjoy "a very good year".
The Scandinavians stand level with the Czechs at the top of Group 2, with seven points from three games each. Svensson believes Saturday's game will go a long way to deciding which country reaches the finals in China next September. "It is the key game for us," she said. "If we win that, we will be leading the group, which will of course be good. It is going to be a very tough game. I haven't seen too much of the Czechs but the coach has seen them a lot, and we are going to watch some videos. It will be a tough game for us, and I am confident that we can do it."
After an injury-hit 2005, the 28-year-old believes she is ready to unleash her full potential in the Czech city of Kladno, saying: "I am fit now. Last year I had a lot of injuries, I had an operation at the start of the year and then it was just crazy, but now I'm feeling good and I hope it is going to be a very good year." Svensson is among a core of vastly experienced players peaking at the right time. She, Hanna Ljungberg, Malin Moström, Karolina Westberg and Hanna Marklund are all aged between 27 and 30, and have a staggering 556 caps between them. Surely Sweden will rarely get a better chance to lift the World Cup than in 2007?
"Well, first of all we have to get there! It's true that we have a lot of players who have been together for a long time. I think we have a good chance, but we also thought that at the 2004 Olympics and the [UEFA WOMEN'S] EURO [2005™] last year, but we ended up disappointed," she said, referring to the Swedes' semi-final defeats at both tournaments.
'Lots of confidence'
One relative newcomer is the coach, Thomas Dennerby. The 46-year-old took over from Marika Domanski Lyfors in July 2005, and knows Svensson well, having managed her at club level for Djurgården/Älvsjö. "Like Marika, he is a really good coach. He is not afraid to make decisions and is able to improve the things that you are good at," said Svensson. "They are quite similar. Thomas was my coach at Djurgården for two years and we won the Swedish championship twice, so I have lots of confidence in him."
'Little World Cup'
Sweden limbered up last month at the Algarve Cup, a friendly tournament that Svensson describes as "like a little World Cup", with football superpowers Germany, Norway and the United States all in attendance. Dennerby rotated his players throughout, an experiment that produced mixed results but some extremely encouraging football. "I started against Norway, but we didn't play very well and it was a very bad pitch," said Svensson of the first match in Loulé. A 3-0 defeat against Germany followed, with Sweden folding after Stina Segerström's dismissal. "It's hard enough to play Germany with eleven players, but almost impossible when you have one player less," said Svensson.
"The last group game was against Finland. We won 4-1 and I scored three goals so of course I was happy about that. Then we won the third-place game against France. The first 20 minutes were brilliant, maybe the best we have played since the World Cup in 2003 [in which Sweden were runners-up], which was great." Ominous news for the Czechs, who may find their recent run of form comes to an abrupt end if Sweden hit such heights on Saturday.
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