Caroline Seger part of Sweden's new generation
Scandinavians look to reassert themselves at the Women's World Cup
Sweden is one of the historical giants of women's soccer, so home come it enters this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany as a country with a lot to prove?
Maybe it's because the Blagult (the blue and yellows) fell from grace four years ago when they were unceremoniously dumped out of the World Cup in the first round.
The Swedes' capitulation caught a lot of pundits off-guard because they had never failed to make it out of the group stage in their three previous appearances, including winning bronze in 1991 and finishing runners-up in 2003.
The 2007 World Cup proved to be a turning point for Sweden, its calamity in China serving as a tipping point for veterans Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson. Key members of the Sweden side that reached the final, both announced their international retirements two years ago before the most-recent round of World Cup qualifiers began.
Current coach Thomas Dennerby has clearly learned his lessons from China, and will rely on a new generation of Swedish players in Germany.
One of the benefactors of this approach is Caroline Seger.
A 26-year-old midfielder who started at the last World Cup, Seger feels she and her cohorts have seamlessly taken over as Sweden's new leaders.
"We lost a good couple of players but also the new ones that are coming up they're more technical. They bring a new level to the game and for me it's fun to see," Seger told CBC Sports.
"I think we played a lot together and it's not a completely new team. We have a lot of players, they still have a lot of experience, so for me I think the transition's been natural [and] I don't see that as a problem, more like something that's going to be good for us during the World Cup."
Still, despite the emphasis on young players, Sweden's history as World Cup bridesmaids looms large.
"We had problems to succeed during tournaments … [not] playing the best soccer that we need to do during tournaments, so I'm kind of humble going into this World Cup," Seger admitted. "We have a lot of expectations because Sweden always been in the top, so hopefully this is our time. I hope so, because I'm sick and tired of losing."
Seger is critical to Sweden's chances for success in Germany, serving as the team's midfield dynamo who can also score goals. As team captain, her Swedish teammates also look to her for leadership and inspiration.
But Seger doesn't carry the burden alone, teaming up with Lotta Schelin as the twin pillars of the Swedish team. A skilful creator, Schelin can play either up front or on the wing, and has drawn comparisons to her male compatriot, AC Milan Star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
"She's a great player. I mean she's one of the fastest players I've ever seen," Seger stated. "She's scores a lot of goals and she can run through a lot of [defences], so she's going to be really important."
A roommate of Canadian striker Christine Sinclair (they both play for the Western New York Flash in the Women's Professional Soccer League), Seger is confident Sweden can advance to the knockout stages from a difficult group.
The Swedes open play in Germany against Colombia (an emerging team in South American soccer), North Korea (one of the best teams in Asia) and the United States (the No. 1-ranked nation in the world).
Sweden's last match of the first round is against the Americans, a team it has historically struggled against, with just four wins in 28 matches (against seven draws and 17 losses) between the two sides.
Three of the U.S.'s victories came at previous World Cups, but Sweden won the most recent match-up during January's Four Nations tournament in China. Though the Americans have had the Swedes' number, Seger feels the gap in quality between the two sides has narrowed, and she is confident they can win in Germany.
"That's always a tough game for us and [there's] a Swedish coach coaching the U.S. team, so [it's] even more important that we beat them," Seger said. "But also I think we as a team moved closer the U.S., we're better and we actually won against them. That's something important while you're going into a big tournament like the World Cup."