“I believe our chances of going all the way are very good."
Sweden will start as gold medal favourites at the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) European Championships which get underway this weekend (2 October) in Nottwil, Switzerland.
Ranked as the best team in Europe and fourth in the world, the Swedes will battle it out with 11 other teams to win the European crown and also secure one of the three London 2012 qualification spots available to the top performers at the Championship.
At the 2009 European Championships, Sweden lost to Belgium in a closely contested final, and followed it up with a fourth placed finish at last year’s World Championships in Canada, a competition eventually won by USA.
In Nottwil Sweden are in Pool A together with Austria, defending champions Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands and are confident they can improve on two years ago.
“I believe our chances of going all the way are very good,” said Swedish team member Mikael Norlin.
“The first step on the way will be getting through the group stage and on to the semi-final. We have a pretty good pool and I hope we’ll win it. I believe it’ll be a battle between three teams - us, Belgium and Finland.”
Only the top two from each group progress to the semi-finals and, should they make it, they will face one of the best two finishers from Pool A which include teams from Great Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland and host nation Switzerland.
Despite automatically qualifying for London 2012 as host nation, Norlin believes Great Britain will not be taking a backward step in Switzerland.
“I believe Britain will go all in and go to the finals,” he said.
“If we’re damage free and can play with a full team we’ll be very competitive. We’re in good shape. I believe we’re physically stronger now than we were when heading towards last year’s World Championships. Game wise we’re at the same level.
“A great difference compared to then is that Per-Arne Kulle, who got injured just before last year’s Championships, is back. The toughest competition will be the reigning champions Belgium together with Britain and Germany.
“Belgium has put a strong game plan on display up until the Championships and we know that the British are strong. I actually haven’t seen Germany play, but I’ve heard that they are in a great shape.”
This week’s Championships also represent a homecoming for the sport as IWRF President John Bishop explained.
“Nottwil has a long and proud history in Wheelchair Rugby. In 1995, the sport’s first World Championships were held there, followed by the third European Championships in 1999.
“Now, 16 years later, it’s great to see how much the sport has grown throughout Europe, and to once again have Nottwil as the host city of this important Championship.”
The tournament kicks off this Sunday 2 October at 18.30 local time when host nation Switzerland faces Ireland. Games will continue through until next Sunday’s final.