By Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – After Sweden suffered the agony of a shootout defeat by Canada in the Tokyo Olympics soccer final in 2021, they are determined to go one better at the Women’s World Cup which starts next month and give captain Caroline Seger the send off she deserves.

The metronome that keeps Sweden’s midfield ticking, the 38-year-old Seger – whose name means victory – has had a glittering career that only lacks a gold medal at a major tournament with her country, but she faces a race against time to be fit.

“If everything goes well, she will step up her form during the tournament and then everyone will see how important a player like that is,” Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson has said.

Traditionally a superpower in the women’s game, Sweden’s only triumph in a major tournament came at the European Championship in 1984, their best World Cup result being runners-up in 2003 when they lost to Germany in the final.

The lack of winners’ medals does little to dampen the expectations of Swedish fans, who perennially place their team among the favourites ahead of every major tournament.

“It’s better than nobody caring,” a smiling Gerhardsson told Reuters in an interview at the Swedish FA headquarters in Solna. “Expectations, demands and pressure are positive in that way.”

He has overseen a generational shift in recent years, with influential players such as defender Nilla Fischer retiring and goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl making way for younger prospects.

Drawn in Group G against South Africa, Italy and Argentina, the 63-year-old coach will call on the attacking talents of Barcelona’s Fridolina Rolfo and Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius to get the first goal, which he believes is critical in every game.

“Look at the Euros last year – I saw 27, 28 games, and the team that scored first won maybe 24 of them – if you can work out how to score the first goal in every game, you can coach any team you want,” Gerhardsson said.

To increase their chances of doing so Gerhardsson will be hoping Seger is fit – despite her age and a slew of recent injuries, her outstanding range of passing remains intact and offers the best chance of opening up opposition defences.

The coach declined to reveal the team’s objectives for the World Cup, preferring instead to talk about the possibilities that await in Australia and New Zealand.

“When there is an opportunity to do things, I feel this way ahead of every championship – we can win it, and that’s enough for me,” Gerhardsson said.

(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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