Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

First woman to score at Wembley, Pia Sundhage meets The Lionesses again

Posted on 5 October 2019 by Olga Bagatini

Swedish coach Pia Sundhage has great memories from playing against England, at least as a player. The former striker that scored 71 goals in 146 appearances playing for her country, who is now the current coach of Brazil’s national team made history by being the first woman to score at Wembley, back in 1989, in a 2-0 win over England that was actually a curtain-raiser for England vs. Chile at Rous Cup.

At the time, Sundhage was 29 and had been playing for Sweden for more than 10 years, but she started to show her power a few years early. In the inaugural Women’s European Championship in 1984, when she was not only the top scorer, but also the kicker of the decisive penalty against England that earned her country a gold medal.

She also would have more reason to celebrate at Wembley many years later. As a coach, she led the United States women’s team to Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games (after winning in 2008 and being a runner-up in 2011 World Cup) – which earned her the title of Best Fifa Coach in Women’s Football.

Before taking over command of Brazil’s squad last July, Sundhage also led Sweden to the 2016 Olympic Games final. But among all good memories from her great trajectory as a football player and coach, being allowed to play at Wembley 30 years ago it was more than making history scoring in the iconic stadium. It was “my way of saying that women’s football was important”.

Pia Sundhage has been coaching Brazil’s women’s national team since July (Daniela Porcelli/CBF)

“It was such a great thing for us. I was playing for the Swedish team for many years, but the fact that they said we would play against England at Wembley it was really big,” Sundhage told Sports Gazette after Brazil last training ahead of playing a friendly match against The Lionesses this Saturday in Middlesbrough.

“It was great that women were allowed to play at Wembley. Statements were being made there, that even women can play in big stadiums,” she added.

The Sweden coach knows the importance of making certain statements. If the road to women in football is less tortuous nowadays, then credit must be given to to her, as well to her generation, who struggled to see the first Women’s FIFA World Cup comes to life in 1991, and also for the right to play at the Olympics in 1996.

“Everything has been so much better on the pitch but also off the pitch. It starts with the recognition. Back in the good old days, we had the chance to play the European Championship. We didn’t have that privilege at the start or any other high-level tournaments,” said Sundhage.

“If I take you back to 1991 in China, the first World Cup, we thought ‘wow, so many people are watching us!’. Now we are used to it, it happens more often. And it’s very engaging and exciting for a player to play in front of big crowds.”

Definity it’s easier for female footballers to play at Wembley nowadays. FA announced last week that more than 75,000 tickets were sold for the England vs Germany match at Wembley in November.

Sundhage unfortunately won’t have the chance to write one more chapter at the 90,000-seat stadium, as this Saturday’s game will be held at Middlesbrough, but both Brazilian and English can expect to feel this “big crowd excitement”. All the tickets were sold for the match at the Riverside Stadium, scheduled for 12:45.

“This will be a great game for us because you saw how England played at the World Cup”, said Sundhage who is going to coach only her third game for Brazil. “We’ve been prepared to play against a great opponent and let’s see what will work on attacking and defending.”

The Swedish coach was hired after Brazil’s defeat to France at the 2019 World Cup (Mauro Horita/CBF)

Despite Sundhage’s retrospect, there is still hope for England. The English team defeated Brazil in their last confrontation in February, during SheBelieves Cup held in the USA, and Sundhage also has a bad memory against Phil Neville’s team.

“Sweden played against England and we lost 4-0 in 2014. And we didn’t perform well at all. Then we had a long meeting afterward because as a coach you’ve got to get there and bring the team to the field,” said Sundhage.

But regarding all the good and the bad memories from Britain, for Swedish coach, the most important thing is her role to make more out of women’s football. “More than being proud to be the first woman to score at Wembley, I’m proud to be part of the women’s game. And the fact that we are not only playing in the backyards but we are an integral part of the development of the women’s sports and it’s enough for me.”