By Philip O’Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A positional switch from midfield and a new focus on scoring goals is music to the ears of Sweden’s Olivia Schough as they prepare to face Thailand, Chile and the United States at next month’s World Cup in France.
The 28-year-old, who loves to sing in her spare time and who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, has endured a rocky period since Peter Gerhardsson took over as coach following Euro 2017, but feels she is hitting the right notes again.
“The national team can now see that I can be a striker too, and I haven’t been a striker in the national team for many years. I see it as an advantage that I can play there too,” she told Reuters in an interview at the training ground of her club Djurgardens IF in Stockholm.
The retirement of striker Lotta Schelin, who netted 88 goals in 185 games for Sweden, has opened up a spot in the squad for a senior player like Schough with a nose for goal and an ability to create chances for others.
Schough said the timing of her close season switch from Kopparbergs/Gothenburg FC to the capital was not perfect, but she was intrigued by the prospect of playing up front again.
“I scored a lot in pre-season games and in the opening league games. It’s fun to be a scorer – previously I was an assist player but now as a forward I’m supposed to score the goals myself,” she said.
Gerhardsson initially left Schough out of his squad when he took over from Pia Sundhage after Euro 2017, and she played in only three World Cup qualifying games after being reinstated.
Schough knows little about Group F opponents Thailand and Chile and, though Sweden scored a healthy 22 goals in their eight qualifiers, she knows tougher defences will await the Scandinavians in France, especially in the knockout stages.
“It’s very, very difficult to predict the outcome of the World Cup. Germany, USA, Brazil, France will all be up there, but then there’s Sweden, Norway, England, even Scotland, that can spring a surprise,” Schough warned before revealing the hunger that drives her on.
“Personally, my goal for the year is to get on the score-sheet more often, contribute with goals and try to be a leader on the field. It’s going to be magical. I’ve experienced a lot of championships and the Olympics in Rio was the high point so far, but the World Cup in France can be even bigger,” she said.
“Everything will depend on how we play – it will be great to be there, but when we are there it’s about getting as far as possible.
“If we play our cards right, in the Olympics no-one believed in us and we made it to the final. We may not be the best team, but we can still go a long way,” Schough added.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)