Women’s Euro 2013: Can Germany retain title in Sweden?

imageThe 2013 Women’s European Championship kicks off in Sweden on Wednesday with England hoping to improve on their performance four years ago when they lost to Germany in the final.
The Germans have won the last five tournaments but have suffered injuries to several key players, thereby offering the other 11 teams an opportunity to end their rivals’ dominance.
France, England and the hosts will head that chasing pack. Three groups of four teams will battle to make the final on 28 July, with the top two in each group being joined in the quarter-finals by the two best third-placed teams.
But what can we expect from the 11th staging of the tournament?
Who are the favourites?

If history, the Fifa world rankings and bookmakers are anything to go by, Germany will start as clear front-runners.

It is little wonder. Seven of the 10 European Championships held so far have been won by the Germans and they are Europe’s top ranked team, second in the world behind the United States.
Euro 2013 betting odds

But coach Silvia Neid has had to name a young squad after six players were hit by injury in the build-up to the tournament. Germany have also had to deal with the loss of prolific striker Birgit Prinz, who retired after the 2011 World Cup.

The Germans still have a massive goal threat in Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, and, having lost in the quarter-finals at the World Cup two years ago and having failed to reach the 2012 Olympics, Europe’s powerhouse will be determined to reinforce their previous superiority.
“No-one will write off Germany and I think they will have something to prove after being knocked out of the World Cup and not making the Olympics,” says former England captain Faye White, who will be a BBC pundit during Euro 2013. “They have always shown they can bring through new players and sometimes show they can be better than the ones before them.”
But Sweden’s star forward Lotta Schelin says: “You don’t get the impression that Germany are as unstoppable as they used to be, and that’s positive.”
Hosts Sweden, ranked fourth in the world and second in Europe behind Germany, will hope home support can boost them to greater heights than third place in the 2011 World Cup.
They will be aided in their quest by Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, who led the United States to the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and won the Fifa women’s coach of the year.
England midfielder Anita Asante, who plays for Swedish club side Gothenburg, says: “Swedes are very passionate about the game and the domestic league is well supported with big games hosting 2-3,000 supporters.

Euro 2013
Group A: Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Finland
Group B: Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Iceland
Group C: France, England, Russia, Spain

“No doubt they will have the whole country behind them, so they will be strong contenders.”
France are hotly fancied after fourth spot in last year’s Olympics and the 2011 World Cup and, with nearly half of their squad playing together at Champions League runners-up Lyon, they present a formidable unit.
England, runners-up in 2009, will hope to at least make it past the last eight – the end of their journey at the World Cup. But with several injuries to key players such as striker Kelly Smith, they may need inspiration from one of their rising young players.
Who are the potential stars?

Sweden’s Lotta Schelin

If Sweden make an impression in this tournament, then it is likely that forward Lotta Schelin will have played a key part. Schelin, 29, plays for one of Europe’s strongest club sides, Lyon, and recently surpassed the 50-goal mark for her country.

“Schelin is a phenomenal goalscorer but I found her one of the hardest forwards to mark because of the timing of her runs and her ability to play on your back shoulder, just where you hated them to be,” says White. “She makes the game look so elegant in the way she plays with her touch and her ability to nip past players.

Germany’s Celia Okoyino da Mbabi
“I think she will be able to handle any home pressure and the team will look to her.”
Despite their injury woes, Germany will field a young but strong side. Midfielder Kim Kulig and striker Alexandra Popp are among the biggest losses, but Celia Okoyino da Mbabi scored a record 17 goals in qualifying and team-mates Fatmire Bajramaj and Dzsenifer Marozsan will attempt to provide the ammunition.
Witnesses of England’s 2011 World Cup quarter-final defeat by France will know that Louisa Necib and Gaetane Thiney can cause all sorts of problems with their ability to find space between opposition defensive lines and midfield.

France’s Louisa Necib
“I always look for Necib,” White admits. “She is very elegant and technical and always seems to have time on the ball. I think she is more effective in the middle, but she plays out wide because they have such strength there. Necib’s Lyon team-mate Camille Abily plays behind Marie-Laure Delie and has made a big impact in past tournaments.”
England midfielder Sue Smith, who is also part of the BBC’s team throughout the tournament, also believes one of her previously unsung team-mates may emerge.
“I think Anita Asante is one of the most under-rated players around. I’ve played with her for years and she is always there or thereabouts and I think this will be her tournament this year.

England’s Jordan Nobbs
“The fact she plays in Sweden will help her and she knows the style of play if we face Sweden and knows what the pitches are like and I think she will be a shining light for England.”
Meanwhile, England’s Jordan Nobbs and Toni Duggan have impressed White and she believes they could both make an impact at Euro 2013.
“Jordan is a bundle of energy,” White says of the Arsenal midfielder. “She has a very good head on her shoulders in terms of confidence and wanting to go out there and express herself. She will not be overawed by the experience if she gets a chance.”

Source: BBC Sports.