Germany and Sweden will both be contenders at next year’s World Cup, but when the teams met for Wednesday’s friendly in Öbebro (on artificial turf, gasp), the outcome was relegated below the proverbial fold. Though the Germans’ 2-1 comeback win served as a nice rebound from Saturday’s loss to France, the match’s broader relevance centered around Therese Sjögran, a Swedish midfielder who was making a historic 200th appearance for den Blågult.
At 37 years old, Sjögran becomes the 15th player in women’s soccer history to hit the mark, though she’s only the sixth outside the United States. In the U.S., where women’s soccer got a huge headstart on most of the world, nine women have eclipsed 200, with Heather O’Reilly (212 caps), Abby Wambach (228), and Christie Rampone (301) still chasing Kristine Lilly’s record 351 appearances. Thankfully, we’re in the middle of the second decade of a widely embraced, highly active women’s national team.
That’s only recently become the case in other places, though at this point, the European game, particularly in Germany and Northern Europe, is well established. That’s why three other members of the 200 club come from that part of the world. German legend Birgit Prinz has 211 caps (to go along with 128 goals), while defender/midfielder Katrine Pedersen made 210 appearances for Denmark. After last night’s cap, Sjögran not only joins that elite company, but Sweden becomes part of an exclusive group of nations that have cultivated a 200-cap star.
Fellow early adopters (and, recent waners) China have two 200 cappers: Pu Wei, 201 appearances, and Li Jie, 200. The final member of the club: Canada, with Christine Sinclair currently on 211 caps.
Subtly, that’s a hugely significant milestone. Not only does a country have to cultivate a program with some staying power, it needs enough commitment to book an average of 20 games per year for a decade. That’s more rare than you’d think. In addition, that federation has to implement a system and culture that can produce a player capable of playing at that level into her mid-to-late 30s.
While a lack of competition within a team could help, it still takes a huge commitment from a special talent to reach the mark. Even at 37, Sjögran remains a regular for Rosengard, the best team in one of the top leagues in the world (Sweden’s Damallsvenskan).
In the men’s game, commitment and a willingness to invest in talent are minimum requirements for a functional federation. Not so in the women’s game. Where broad swaths of the map are lagging behind, 200-cap players are of particular note.
Even beyond soccer fans, Swedish sports saw the milestone as a big deal:
Also of note: Lyon’s Lotta Schelin, one of the world’s best attackers, became Sweden’s leading scorer yesterday, with her opening goal gave her 73 goals in 141 international appearances.