FIFA Women's World Cup
Brazil coach Pia Sundhage out to fill gap in career with World Cup glory
FIFA Women's World Cup

Brazil coach Pia Sundhage out to fill gap in career with World Cup glory

Published Jun. 24, 2023 5:22 p.m. ET

The illustrious career of coach Pia Sundhage in women’s soccer includes Olympic gold medals, a Copa America Femenina title and accolades such as FIFA women’s coach of the year.

The one big gap in her coaching résumé is a Women’s World Cup crown. Sundhage came close in 2011 when her United States team lost the final to Japan in a penalty shootout.

The 63-year-old Swede has a fourth chance to finally bag the big one with Brazil, which is also seeking its first World Cup trophy as the great Marta nears the end of her playing days.

Sundhage said in an interview with The Associated Press at Brazil’s training center in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, that she liked their chances when the tournament kicks off on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.


Her team is in Group F with France — the team that eliminated the Brazilians four years ago in the last 16 — Jamaica and Panama.

"I truly believe the 10 best-ranked teams, like we are, do have a chance to go all the way," Sundhage said. "USA, Germany, Sweden and England, they have a big chance to win.

"But look at Canada. They won an Olympic gold medal (in 2020) and they always come from behind. If you don’t have any injuries, you have a great team, you gain confidence by winning and having a little bit of luck."

Her coaching involvement in Women’s World Cups began in 2007 as an assistant with China. There was the near miss with the U.S. in 2011, between Olympic gold medals at the Beijing and London Games. In 2015, her Sweden side was knocked out in the round of 16.

She was minding the Sweden Under-17 women when the Brazilian Football Confederation came to Sundhage after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Her contract is up following the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Across her stints with the U.S., Sweden and Brazil, her win rate is above 66%.

Sundhage came to Brazil with knowledge of its soccer culture but almost no Portuguese-speaking skills, and a demanding style. Four years later, she has become a fan of Brazilian singers and adopted a more patient approach.

She said she felt a culture clash when she took the job, with players reliant on their skills but yet to grow in terms of teamwork.

In April, showing her side was on the rise, Brazil drew in England and beat Germany away in two friendlies despite having several players injured, including Marta.

"At the start it was overwhelming," Sundhage said. "When I went to the U.S. it was the same thing. They were very successful, and who am I? Should I change anything? Yes, of course, a little bit. But it couldn’t be too much of a change because they had been successful. And it couldn’t be too small because they could just as well bring in an American coach. It is similar here.

"In Sweden, we are very well organized, we have a game plan, especially in defense. When it comes to the U.S. it is, ‘Go for it, one versus one.' And of course that always brings a change to be more flexible and organized. This warm country with warm people is very emotional. They rely on their technique and doing special things that make you shine, your team shine."

Defender Rafaella agrees Brazil’s first experience with a foreign coach has improved the team’s defense and brought a more tactical approach.

"She brought her style of a very compact team, it is very hard for others to break our lines," Rafaella told the AP. "We evolved a lot. Pia is an extrovert during our meetings, she sings and laughs, but she is very demanding about our fitness, intensity. We will never forget our intensive training with her. I hope we can carry those lessons beyond the 2024 Olympics, no matter how long she works with Brazil."

Sundhage will announce her World Cup squad, which has already been affected by injuries, Tuesday. Three that stand out have ruled out striker Ludmila, put 37-year-old Marta at risk of starting from the bench, and cast doubts on midfielder Angelina.

"It is a team game, it is not one player that will win the World Cup. It will be the team, and it will be a cohesive team," Sundhage said.

The coach added some of the players she will pick "will be unstoppable" inside four years.

Sundhage knows Brazil fans will judge her on what happens in the World Cup but trusts she is on the right path. As to what happens after, she is unconcerned. The team’s best previous result was making the 2007 final, and losing to Germany.

"I am on a fantastic journey to the World Cup," the coach said. "Then another fantastic journey to the Olympics in France. And then I have no idea.

"What matters is that I’m right here, right now."

Reporting by The Associated Press.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
FIFA Women's World Cup

Get more from FIFA Women's World Cup Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more