Saturday 31 December 2016, 08:09

Sundhage and Sweden's spectacular comeback

Countless memories have been made during the 25-year history of the FIFA Women's World Cup™. Here, we look back at the second edition of the tournament in 1995 in Sweden, a country that enjoyed elite status in the women's game for several years. The event was a joyful blend of the prestige of a World Cup and a provincial carnival. The 26 matches were held at the Rasunda Stadium near Stockholm and across the smaller cities of Gavle, Helsingborg, Karlstad and Vasteras.

These medium-sized host cities were chosen with a view to attracting as much attention as possible, and the fact that 14,500 paying spectators witnessed the Opening Match was a good start. Two weeks later, following the well-attended Final, the total attendance figure for the tournament was well over 112,000.

Amid a typically Swedish summer holiday atmosphere, the players mingled with fans in a relaxed environment. Among their number was Pia Sundhage, now one of the most successful coaches in women's football and one of the most famous figures in Sweden. In 1988 she was even immortalised on the front of a specially-issued postage stamp.

"She's very popular," said Lotta Schelin in a recent interview with "It doesn't matter who you ask, everyone knows who she is, what she stands for and what she's done. Most people would say she's an amazing person. She's especially popular for everything she's done for women's football in Sweden as a player and as a coach."

Accustomed to success As a player Sundhage, an Ulricehamn native, scored 71 goals in 146 outings for the national team and was key to Sweden's progress beyond the group stage at the Women's World Cup on home soil. The tournament had begun with a shock for the hosts, with a 1-0 loss to Brazil meaning they had their backs against the wall going into their second game against Germany.

Things did not start well in that match either, as Gero Bisanz's Germany side were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Bettina Wiegmann and Uschi Lohn. However, Sweden rallied in front of their own fans and pulled off a spectacular comeback.

The Scandinavians reduced the deficit through a Malin Andersson penalty and equalised ten minutes before the end when the ball fell kindly to Sundhage after a free-kick was blocked. Andersson even netted a winner shortly afterwards. Sweden won their next game against Japan to reach the quarter-finals, only to be eliminated by China PR after losing 4-3 on penalties.

Curiously, when Sundhage reflects on the tournament it is not a goal that sticks out most in her mind but a person and the masses of fans. "I remember Mia Hamm, which might sound a bit strange, but she came from the USA to advertise our Women's World Cup," said the 56-year-old in an interview with "We played against Brazil in our first game and the number of fans and media there was overwhelming.

"The tournament was very good for the development of women's football in general. I think was strong back then primarily because of the strong women in our society. As a child I had to change my name from Pia to Pelle because I wasn't allowed to play football as a girl. Thankfully that problem doesn't exist anymore. We asserted our right to play football and that's why we were successful."

Sundhage, a Bob Dylan fan and a 1984 European Championship winner, hung up her boots in 1996 but has since enjoyed a glittering coaching career that has taken her to China, USA and back home to Sweden. She has been in charge of the Blagult since December 2012 and is eager to lead the side to glory.

She took a step in the right direction over the summer by guiding Sweden to the final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. For Sundhage, who twice won Olympic gold as USA coach, the silver medal is a positive milestone on a longer journey she is hoping to share with this team.