Anyone with good knowledge of women’s football will be aware that Sweden are one of the game's traditional heavyweights. The Scandinavian country’s strong performances at major tournaments following the turn of the millennium have made them a force on the international scene, while Umea IK have also established themselves as one of Europe’s leading club sides. Central to the successes of both were the goals of Hanna Ljungberg.
During a glittering career between 1996 and 2008, the gifted striker earned 130 caps and scored an impressive 72 goals, once a national record, now owned by Lotta Schelin. Clearly a huge talent from an early age, Ljungberg made her Sweden debut aged just 17 and went on to collect runners-up medals at the UEFA Women’s EURO and FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 2001 and 2003 respectively, as well as the award for Sweden’s Player of the Year in 2002. Such is her standing in her homeland that upon the Swedish FA’s 100th anniversary, stamps were printed bearing her image along with other footballing legends of the nation.
Ljungberg proved herself to be an irreplaceable member of the Sweden side that reached the FIFA Women's World Cup final of USA 2003, scoring three goals and subsequently finishing third in that year's FIFA World Player award.
She also contributed massively to the history of hometown club Umea UK, for whom she netted a phenomenal 196 goals in 227 appearances and won seven national titles. Indeed, during a spectacular 2002 season she found the net 39 times, an average around 1.78 goals per game.
Hampered by injuries
Ljungberg officially brought an end to her career in August 2009 after suffering a second cruciate ligament tear in her right knee. The Swedish icon would no doubt have carried on her goalscoring feats for several more years had she not had such misfortune with injuries, including a nasty head injury in 2006 which forced Ljungberg to spend several weeks in a dark room without a telephone or a TV.
This difficult time, along with a bout of muscle stiffness shortly before the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007, no doubt contributed to her sub-prime displays in China and was a significant factor in Sweden’s failure to progress beyond the group stage.