This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s Euro 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 16 countries that have qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 6 July.
“I am tired like a dog but we have fought for each other. I don’t give a shit how we won, we are going to the Euros.” The words were Lia Wälti’s, speaking moments after Switzerland had beaten the Czech Republic on penalties in April 2021 to qualify for this summer’s tournament. The second leg had been a gruesome evening, finishing 1-1 and 2-2 on aggregate before the spot-kicks. To make matters worse Switzerland missed their first two, through Malin Gut and Coumba Sow, but the goalkeeper Gaëlle Thalmann stepped up to save two penalties while the Czech midfielder Katerina Svitkova hit the bar.
Qualifying was so important for Switzerland and their Danish manager, Nils Nielsen. Having missed out on the 2019 World Cup, being absent again would have meant that the team would have fallen further behind the best sides. And for the Swiss FA it is important that the women’s side, like the men’s, qualify for the major tournaments. The men have missed out on only one since 2004; the women have some catching up to do when it comes to consistency.
It was Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the German who oversaw Switzerland from 2012 to 2018, who changed the mentality of the women’s side in the country. She implemented a whole new structure when she took over, including youth talent programs. It resulted in Switzerland qualifying for their first finals, the World Cup in Canada in 2015, and she followed that up by reaching the 2017 Euros. She is now the Germany manager.
Several players were rewarded with big moves abroad and by 2017, stars such as Lara Dickenmann and Ramona Bachmann had become known to the wider Swiss public. Before the Voss-Tecklenburg era the games were watched by just a handful of fans.
Switzerland travel to England more in hope than expectation, but Nielsen knows he can count on his players to give their all. “This is an incredible group of players,” he said after that dramatic night in Thun. “They have so much character, it is great to work with them.”