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Öqvist: Sweden run can boost league

Sweden are limbering up for Sunday's quarter-final against Iceland in Halmstad, their fourth straight sell-out, and Josefine Öqvist hopes their new status will boost the domestic game.

Sweden salute the Halmstad fans after beating Italy
Sweden salute the Halmstad fans after beating Italy ©AFP/Getty Images

After playing three UEFA Women's EURO 2013 group matches at sold-out venues, Sweden will do the same against Iceland in Sunday's quarter-final. There is a definite buzz around the hosts, and forward Josefine Öqvist hopes it will translate into better attendances for domestic league games too.

Öqvist sits back in a plush sofa in the lobby of Sweden's team hotel, nestled alongside a long, sandy beach in Falkenberg. Arranged in a semi-circle around her are reporters from the biggest newspapers in the country, all there to bring readers the latest on the team that is capturing public attention this summer. For Öqvist, being in the public eye is something she first experienced ten years ago, when Sweden finished runners-up at the FIFA Women's World Cup in the USA.

"The USA was a huge thing," she said. "And also when we returned home. But if we'd hosted a EURO ten years ago, the public attention would never have been what it is now. We have to use the back entrance to get into the hotel! That's a huge change."

The rock star-like status is evident in the extra security that has been called in to ensure some peace and quiet for the Sweden players. Not that the protection is foolproof. While Öqvist sits talking to the media, her team-mate Nilla Fischer walks back from the beach, stopping every few metres to pose for photos and sign autographs.

"Things are great now, but what happens when this is over?" mused Öqvist, who plies her trade with Kristianstads DFF. "It remains as difficult as ever to get crowds to Damallsvenskan games. I was telling 'Kosse' [Kosovare Asllani]: 'Do I go home and play in front of 300 at Vilans IP after this?'"

Öqvist laughs at the contrast, but she has a serious point in mind. Over the past ten years, attendances at domestic league games have shrunk to this season's average of 738 spectators, and Kristianstads' home outings at Vilans IP attract even smaller crowds. Following the 2003 World Cup and Umeå IK's European success, Damallsvenskan attendances hovered around 1,100 for a few seasons. So despite enjoying the limelight at the moment, Öqvist is already thinking of how to channel the interest into domestic fixtures.

"I don't have the answer. Everybody talks about it every year. Do you guys have an answer?" She tosses the question back at the reporters. "What if you win the EURO?" suggests someone. Öqvist smiles: "Yeah, maybe that would help."

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