(Reuters) - Hosts Sweden will be hoping coach Pia Sundhage has brought her Midas touch home from the U.S. when they kick off their women’s European Championship campaign against Denmark in Gothenburg on Wednesday.
Governing body UEFA has called the tournament “by far the most important” of the year and for Sundhage there is no difference between male and female soccer.
“There is no such thing as men’s football and women’s football - there is only football,” she told Reuters earlier this year.
Named FIFA’s female coach of the year in January, Sundhage crowned a four-year stint as U.S. boss by winning the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics before taking charge of her native country at the end of the year.
For the Swedes it was a dream appointment because the 53-year-old is arguably the most well-known and best-loved soccer coach in the country.
After several years of meticulous off-the-field preparation by the organisers for the 12-team tournament, Sundhage’s appointment was the final piece of the footballing puzzle on it and expectations are running high in the host nation.
Sundhage, who made her playing debut for Sweden as a 15-year-old in 1975, combines a combative, unsentimental approach to the game with a warm, endearing manner.
In her dealings with the fans and the media she is as likely to burst into song as she is to offer sharp insights into football and is often critical of players - something she says increases interest in the team.
“It’s good that people understand we’re not just a grey mob but a bunch of different players,” she told the Sportbladet newspaper recently.
Germany are the title favourites and with good reason. They have won seven of the previous 10 championships with only Norway (twice) and Sweden also having claimed the crown.
Sweden’s victory in 1984 was thanks in no small part to four goals in the tournament from Sundhage who also scored in the penalty shootout victory over England in the final.
Despite injury concerns over players and internal strife among her coaching team, a recent 4-1 thrashing of England ended Sundhage’s preparations for the championship on a high note.
Finland and Italy join Sweden and Denmark in Group A while Germany take on Norway, Netherlands and Iceland in Group B.
France, England, Russia and Spain have been drawn together in Group C.
The top two from each section and the two best third-placed sides go through to the quarter-finals. The final will be held at the Friends Arena in Stockholm on July 28.
Editing by Tony Jimenez