"It's Time to Reap What We've Sown"
June 6 marks the start of the Women's World Football Cup in Canada. We sat down for an interview with former national goalkeeper Kathrin Lehmann to discuss Switzerland's chances, her World Cup favorites, and players to watch.
Michael Krobath: For the first time, the Swiss women's team is taking part in an A category World Cup. Are you surprised?
Kathrin Lehmann: Not at all. During qualification for the 2011 World Cup, Switzerland only lost in the play-offs by a very close margin. Now it's time to reap what we've sown.
In what way?
We are reaping the fruits of the outstanding young talent work of the past few years. We are benefiting from a very talented generation that has proven itself in foreign professional leagues. Additionally, with Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, we have a coach who can bundle these resources for maximum impact.
What distinguishes the national head coach, who has been in office since 2012?
She was once a world-class player and knows what it takes in the international arena. Tactically, she has brought Switzerland to the next level; she is a very brave and intelligent coach. The team has also come together under her leadership. The two stars, Ramona Bachmann and Lara Dickenmann, have found they enjoy leading the younger talent and involving them in the game.
How would you describe Switzerland's playing style?
Daring, bold, and intelligent. The team has an attacking and creative style of play that is fun to watch. Physically speaking, the Swiss are not the bulkiest, but they compensate for this by quickly switching from defense to offense and being very clever from set pieces. In brief, you could say that Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has taught the players to make decisions and not be afraid of mistakes.
Do the strengths lie more in offense?
Yes, but the outstanding goal difference of 53-1 in the World Cup qualification also speaks for the stability of the Swiss defense. At the World Cup, it will be important for captain Caroline Abbé to be brave and organize the game from the back. It's good that she has just won the German championship with her club, Bayern Munich, and will thus arrive with a lot of self-confidence.
The starting goalkeeper Gaëlle Thalmann was injured for half a year and her World Cup appearance is doubtful. Does Switzerland have a goalkeeper problem?
Not at all. When you have as much experience as she does, you don't need much game practice. Not to mention that a suitable replacement is available in Stenia Michel from the Bundesliga team Jena.
A lot will depend on the performances of stars Lara Dickenmann and Ramona Bachmann. You yourself have played with them both. What makes them so good?
Nothing can ruffle Lara. You could wake her up at two in the morning and tell her she has to score a penalty or the world will end. She would get up, score the penalty, and go back to bed. She is one of the best female players in Europe, has an excellent shooting technique, and has become a leading figure.
Ramona Bachmann has publicly stated that she wants to be the best female player in the world. A case of megalomania?
On the contrary. I think it's wonderful that she acknowledges her ambition. In women's football, there are few things more spectacular than watching Ramona play. Her tricks and dribbling at speed are world-class. If she has just one or two opponents in front of her, you get the feeling she's almost bored. Thanks to her individual skills, she will also score the important goals at the World Cup.
At the World Cup, Switzerland (19th in the FIFA world rankings list) will play against defending champion Japan (4th), Ecuador (49th), and Cameroon (51st). Child's play?
Not child's play, but advancing is mandatory. I'm particularly looking forward to the first match against Japan; it could be one of the most attractive matches of the World Cup. Both teams have a lot of skill and speed. The other two opponents are definitely beatable, but beware Cameroon!
Like the men, the African women's teams have a very athletic playing style and are very hard in the tackle. The Swiss team cannot afford to rely on elegance alone; they have to stand firm. In particular, taller players like Caroline Abbé must set the tone.
The World Cup will be played on artificial grass of allegedly poor quality. There is considerable dissatisfaction; German national player Pauline Bremer stated: "This shows a lack of respect toward female athletes." Do you agree?
I can understand why critical questions are being asked regarding the quality of the artificial grass. Overall, however, I don't see it as a gender debate. Canada happens to have these stadiums with artificial grass. Furthermore, the men are increasingly playing on this surface as well, even in the Champions League. The decision is final and we have to deal with it. End of story.
Among other things, World Cups tend to thrive on outstanding individual players. Who should we watch this time?
As always, of course, the five-time Women's World Player of the Year Marta from Brazil. I'm also very impressed with American Abby Wambach, who has also won this title, and Christine Sinclair from Canada. And last but not least, the aforementioned Ramona Bachmann.
Which teams are on your list of contenders for the World Cup title?
In the semi-finals, I see Canada, the US, Japan, and a European team. Most likely France, which currently has a golden generation and could take advantage of the opportunity.
What about two-time world champion and current European champion Germany?
They are not on my list. Germany is living too much off its past successes. They've fallen somewhat behind in terms of training and tactics.
Who is your secret favorite?
The host team, Canada. The euphoria in the country is tremendous and they are capable of rising to expectations. Another interesting team is New Zealand. They have a very unique, very physical style, and a fantastic team spirit. They're definitely worth watching.
The World Cup title will go to...
...the team that keeps the ball on the ground the most. Which is why I'm tipping the Japanese to win. They are masters of the flat pass.
What do you expect from the Swiss team?
We will certainly no longer be underestimated. During the World Cup preparations, the national team sent a strong signal with its first ever victory against the powerful Swedish team. Switzerland has come very close to the world's best and, on a good day, can beat anyone. Reaching the quarter-finals is mandatory.
Excuse me? Don't you mean the round of sixteen?
No, no. Switzerland has great potential and certainly the capacity to reach the quarter-finals. Anything beyond that is a bonus.