The EURO 2013 is just one summer’s month away and tension is rising in Sweden. The national team will meet later this week and prepare for their friendly against Brazil next Wednesday in Stockholm. Six days after that, team manager Pia Sundhage will announce her roster for the championships. Since Sundhage started working for the Swedish soccer federation, she has surprised experts and fans by nominating a vast amount of different players who sometimes seemed to get closer to becoming a part of the team, only to not get called again next time.
Now, only four weeks before the championship Pia surprised us by calling in two 17-year-old players for the very first time: Lina Hurtig of Umeå IK and Marija Banusic of Kristianstads DFF. On Sunday, Kristianstad visited Stockholm and had to go home with a tough 1-5 against reigning champions Tyresö FF. Marija was not allowed to play, since she had received her third yellow some days ago against Sunnanå – for drinking water on the pitch.
Despite that, Marija Banusic went to Stockholm to see her team play and I used the opportunity to talk to her. The first time I saw her play was almost 18 months ago in a youth tournament indoors in Stockholm. Banusic was only 16 years and three months old and I was stunned by her talent – never before I had seen a player that age with such confidence and even physical strength, a technical target forward who scored and scored. In April this year I met her new teammate, 30-year-old Swedish international Josefine Öqvist and asked her about her view on Marija Banusic. Josefine smiled and said: – If she just learns when to release the ball and to pass it on and when it’s better to keep it, you’ll have a world class player.
Sunday afternoon, Tyresö had just given another strong performance with Christen Press scoring her second hattrick. Players were writing autographs when I finally found Marija just outside of the pitch where she had been watching her team go under.
Marija, last year you were still playing in your home town of Uppsala in the second division. This year you moved down South to Kristianstad, some 600 km away from home. A big step?
– Yes, that is right. And first of all it is really far away. But, I like the way we play soccer here and I just wanted to try my luck down here.
There must have been many clubs who were interested in signing you after a successful season in Division 2. Nothing closer to home?
– I actually think it doesn’t matter how far away it is. It could even have been somewhere abroad. I think it feels right and it has so far fulfilled my expectations here.
You climbed into the second division last year, continued with Damallsvenskan this year.
– Yes, of course, there is a big difference and first of all it is the speed of play. You have to adapt yourself to that, but then it is just about playing soccer and nothing more.
Experts and coaches praise your talent, does that get to you somehow, do you feel the pressure or do you just merely see the possibilities?
– I actually don’t read what media is writing about me. However, the pressure is there, but that is something that I really like and I do not see pressure as an obstacle for me. I see primarily the possibilities.
How do you live in Kristianstad now as a 17-year-old?
– I live quite central in Kristianstad (a small town close to Malmö) and I go to school, I have one year left in high school and I attend a special branch in school which allows me to practice even more soccer, I can practice in the morning in school. Of course, it is a different situation when your family is quite far away, but I have adapted quite well to life in Kristianstad now. In the beginning I had some problems with the language [the dialect of Skåne in Southern Sweden is sometimes difficult to understand]. It is really different from the Swedish we speak in Uppsala, but after a while I got used to that, too.
What are you doing when you have free time?
– I actually play a lot FIFA, so there is a lot of soccer on the pitch and outside of it. I play on the internet with friends back home in Uppsala. My favorite team is Barca, FC Barcelona.
What do you say about this years Champions League with Bayern Munich winning huge against Barca?
– I was not surprised, actually. It is really incredible how Bayern is playing at the moment, that is a real team.
Finally, Marija, how about this incredible nomination into the national team. Did Pia Sundhage call you?
– No, she did not. It was actually my club coach, Elisabet Gunnarsdottir who told me. It was really nice to get the news. I haven’t thought so much about the national team and I try to focus to improve as a soccer player, to get the best out of me in every game. I’m just playing soccer. If I get into the roster for the EURO, I’ll get into it and that would be nice, but as I said, I try not to think about it too much.
Being asked about Marija Banusic and why she chose her to be with the national team now, Pia Sundhage said: – “She has different qualitites and she is able to surprise, she does a lot of unexpected stuff. Marija is a great talent and we will see if she and Lina Hurtig are ready to challenge the best already at this stage of their career. If not, I am pretty sure that we will see them again soon.”
Both Tyresö and Malmö have been winning recently and Tyresö leads three points ahead of Malmö. There seems to be little doubt that Wednesday’s game in Malmö between the top sides will be decisive. If Tyresö wins, their road to a second consecutive championship in Sweden should be a lot easier. Behind Tyresö and Malmö, Linköping has established themselves with another talent to watch out for – their best player so far is young Danish striker Pernille Harder with seven goals. Pernille though lies five goals behind the unthreatened top scorer of the Damallsvenskan: Christen Press with her 12 goals out of 9 matches.
- Finnish team captain Maija Saari tore her ACL during practice for her team of Mallbacken last week. Bad news for Finland that already has forward Linda Sällström on the injury list. Good news for Finland that striker Annica Sjölund is back from her ACL – she scored both goals for her Jitex against Umeå and with her the club from outside Göteborg took a second win in Örebro on Sunday.
- Despite those six points out of two games, Jitex has economic problems. The players got their monthly salary with more than a weeks delay, because the club simply had no money until the first of June.
- The northern team of Piteå is now lying 11th of 12 teams, much worse than everyone expected. Although there are 12 games to go, Piteå is already looking for new players. Last years best scorer, American Jennifer Nobis ended her career and moved back to the US and Nigerian Francesca Ortega has not yet lived up to the expectations.
Standings Damallsvenskan after 10 of 22 rounds: 1. Tyresö FF 26 points, 2 LdB FC Malmö 23, 3.l Linköpings FC 19, 4. Kopparberg/Göteborgs FC 17, 5. Umeå IK 14, 6. KIF Örebro 13, 7. Kristianstad 13, 8. Vittsjö 11, 9. Jitex 11, 10. Mallbacken 8, 11. Piteå 6, 12. Sunnanå 3.
Top scorer: 1. Christen Press (Tyresö) 12 goals, 2. Jodie Taylor (Göteborg) 8, 3. Lina Hurtig (Umeå), Marta (Tyresö), Kirsten van de Ven (Tyresö) 7