"It's going to feel like having all of Sweden behind us," said Lotta Schelin after they were named UEFA Women's EURO 2013 hosts, and one of the key forces in the game have big plans.
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Sweden have been at the forefront of European women's football ever since UEFA began to organise female competitions and their passion for the game will be displayed when they host UEFA Women's EURO 2013.
The Swedish Football Association (SvFF) was awarded the right to stage the 12-team final tournament in July 2013 by the UEFA Executive Committee on Monday. It will mean the event coming full circle, as the first UEFA European Competition for Representative Women's Teams ended in a two-legged final in 1984, and the opening game was staged by Sweden, who beat England 1-0 in Gothenburg and then lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out in Luton.
They have remained a leading nation, a few weeks ago reaching the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby told UEFA.com: "It's fantastic news. This means we've qualified for two major championships in just a few weeks. Next year we hope to book ourselves an Olympic spot too. In 2013 a number of our players, the ones born in the mid-80s, will be in their late 20s, the best age for a player."
Although Sweden have not triumphed at a major national-team event since 1984, they have always been strong contenders. Sweden were EURO runners-up in 1987, 1995 and 2001, and have never failed to be among the last eight, the stage at which they exited to Norway last year in Finland.
It was with Norway, in fact, that Sweden jointly hosted the first eight-team UEFA European Women's Championship in 1997, staging six group games and the semi-finals. Two years earlier they had been sole hosts of the World Cup, for which they have never failed to qualify and in 2003 were runners-up to a German golden goal. Swedes like Pia Sundhage, most-capped player Victoria Svensson and top scorer Hanna Ljungberg are considered greats of the women's game, and the likes of Olympique Lyonnais striker Lotta Schelin are worthy successors.
"Playing at home will be a big advantage," Schelin said. "It's going to feel like having all of Sweden behind us. Hopefully we will play our group matches in Gothenburg. We've had great results at Gamla Ullevi since we started playing there, just one draw – the rest wins. Playing in France I've seen how women's football is gaining interest all the time. The French national team had close to 10,000 people watching them recently."
In the women's club game, too, Sweden has proved a trailblazing nation. Their top-flight Damallsvenskan league began in 1973, and when the UEFA Women's Cup was introduced for 2001/02, its strength was clear. Umeå IK, the dominant club of the last decade before their recent eclipse by Linköpings FC and this season's champions LdB FC Malmö, reached five of the first seven finals, winning in 2003 and 2004.
With the 2013 tournament on the horizon, the SvFF intends to maintain its role as women's football innovator. "Our aim is to use the tournament to take European women's football to a higher level," project leader Göran Havik said. "We know there's a market for the game in Sweden and we have support from Sweden's biggest TV channel, TV4, who have already submitted a bid to broadcast the tournament. Last but not least, most of the matches will be played at new grounds. All these factors will provide the best possible conditions for a successful tournament."