Back at the Euros: Finland’s all time top scorer Linda Sällström

Sällström
Linda Sällström sköt själv 0–1 och spelade fram Sanni Franssi till 0–2-målet då Finland besegrade Georgien i VM-kvalet.HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA/ LEHTIKUVA

After eight years of absence, the Finnish national team is back competing at the UEFA Women’s Euros in England. It was none other than their all time top scorer Linda Sällström, who netted the winning goal to secure the qualification.

On club level, the striker has left her marks in the Damallsvenskan for nearly ten years. Speaking exclusively to Her Football Hub, Sällström reflected on her career in Sweden, personal challenges, and the upcoming summer with her national team.

Sweden: Back to where it began

“It’s a competitive league”, Sällström explained when asked about the attraction of the Damallsvenskan. “Everybody can take points from everybody and I think that makes it a lot more fun and interesting. And it’s a very good environment for me to keep improving and getting better.”

The Finn currently plays for Vittsjö GIK, whom she re-joined ahead of the 2022 season of the Damallsvenskan. Prior to this, she had spent three years at Paris FC. Before leaving for France, Sällström already enjoyed a spell at her current club (2015-2018), as well as at Linköping FC (2010-2014) and Djurgården IF (2008-2009).

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Vittsjö has played a good season so far and lost only two of 13 games. They are fifth in the Damallsvenskan table and kept the likes of FC Rosengård and BK Häcken at draws. Despite these impressive results, the club remains underestimated.

“But that suits us”, Sällström pointed out. “We can work as an underdog and then we don’t have to take any pressure from the outside. But our goal has been clear: we want to finish in the top three and have a spot in the Champions League.”

Setbacks and development

However, playing a vital part in reaching the ambitious aims at Vittsjö is not self-evident for the Finn. Severe injuries, including three ACLs, kept her off the pitch, especially at the beginning of her career.

“For me personally, football hasn’t been this fun in a very, very long time. So, I’m just happy to be able to enjoy it again”, said Sällström. “And then just going on the pitch and thinking that it’s fun. It hasn’t always been that way. Now, I’m just very happy and mentally in a very good place.”

The move to France opened an opportunity for the striker to develop and add new aspects to her game there. “I was like a hundred percent transitions and just the run behind the backline”, she explained. “But in France, they wanted me to like show feet a lot more and not to run so much behind. So, I had to learn another type of game and learn how to play like the wrong third also. And that was definitely not my strength before. I became a lot more versatile.”

Competing with Finland

Sällström’s qualities will be vital for Finland when they compete at the Euros this summer. With 50 goals in 115 caps, the striker is the all-time top scorer for her country.

“I’ve played with Laura [Österberg Kalmari], who had the record before me”, explained the Finn. “I knew that I wasn’t so far behind [her]. If I kept scoring goals, then maybe one day I can break that record. And then I started getting injured and didn’t really think about the record for a while. Then I came back, started scoring again. The record came closer and closer.”

When she finally broke the score, it felt really great for Sällström: “I was very happy and it was in my 99th game. Before, I was thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I would break [it] in my 100th game? Then it would be like a double celebration.'”

“But afterward, I realized it was better to do it [this way] because then I had two celebrations instead of one, ” she admitted, laughing.

This summer, Finland is part of the so-called group of death, together with Germany, Spain and Denmark. “We don’t have to take any pressure on, nobody is thinking of us as the front runner here”, said Sällström firmly. “But I feel and I know that we can surprise many. It can be working in our favor that the other teams will underestimate us since [they] are also strong and they might think [of the other opponents as the difficult ones].”

She pointed out the strong belief and confidence within the squad: “We know our strengths. It’s in the transitions and working hard in defense. We just have to keep a clean sheet, [get] a few chances and use these opportunities. The hard work and like sacrificing ourselves for the team, that is definitely our strength.”

Finland on the rise

The striker feels that there’s new hype around football and both national teams in Finland. “I definitely hope that we will have a lot of fans from Finland and then a big turn-up for the games”, she said.

It was actually Sällström’s goal, which took her country to the tournament. She netted in the 94th minute in the decisive qualifier against back in 2021. “I got the ball and just took a shot and it went in”, she remembered with a laugh.

“But I had a good feeling throughout the game that I’m going to score. Towards the end of the game, I felt like: ‘Just give me one more opportunity, one more chance and I’m going to take it’. And it ended pretty well.”

The qualification meant a lot for the national team: “We are so excited to have reached this dream and that we will get to play in this tournament.”

Women’s football has increased in its value in Finland during the last years. The Finnish FA puts more and more effort into investments and marketing around the games. Also, they became a front runner in Europe when announcing equal pay for both the men’s and women’s national teams. Sällström believes they now feel like a big football family that leads by example.

Participation in the Euros marks the next big step in this promising development. Qualifying meant a lot for the women’s national team. “We are so excited to have reached this dream”, said Sällström. “We know what we are capable of. And we will build on that.”

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