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18.11.2016, 11:47
EHF EURO 2016 first true test for Sweden and coach Signell
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TEAM CHECK SWEDEN: Sweden head coach Henrik Signell knows that the expectations are high ahead of the Women's EHF EURO 2016. He is ready to match them, naming the semi-final as the goal. But is his team ready? Part #1 of the EHF EURO team check
 

EHF EURO 2016 first true test for Sweden and coach Signell

Head coach Henrik Signell took over the Swedish women's national team in May 2016. He led them to the quarter-finals at the Olympic Games in Rio but will be under considerably more pressure at the Women's EHF EURO 2016 on home courts in Sweden.

The player he is likely to rely on most is his star playmaker Isabelle Gullden from CSM Bucuresti. Gullden will feel some responsibility on her shoulders in particular in the absence of the long-time injured Johanna Ahlm who is usually Sweden's second centre back.

The roster

The most surprising observation is the fact that Linnea Torstensson has not been nominated for the tournament squad of 16 but is only found among the reserves.

With her 1.86 metres and her Women's EHF Champions League experience with CSM Bucuresti, the 33-year-old left back could have probably added some extra shooting power to the team.

Furthermore, the absence of IK Sävehof playmaker Johanna Ahlm will not make things easier for Sweden. Ahlm tore her anterior cruciate ligament and is sidelined for the season.

The attack

With Louise Sand on the left and 2016 Olympics All-star Nathalie Hagman on the right wing, Sweden appear very strong – in particular when it comes to counter attacks but also in their established attack.

Sand as well as Hagman are reliable in both phases of the game, although many see Hagman as even better on the right back, a position she plays in her club team.

On the other hand, Sweden suffer from their lack of a left-handed high level right back. Ida Oden and Sabina Jacobsen are right-handed, and the only left-handed back court player in Signell's squad, Hanna Blomstrand, is the least experienced of the three.

Signell also faces a challenge on the line, where Linn Blohm has not been playing much at her new club, FC Midtjylland, partly because of an injury she suffered from at the start of the season.

Furthermore, a huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of playmaker Isabelle Gullden in the absence of injured Johanna Ahlm.

Gullden´s back-up, Carin Strömberg, has played a good season at Viborg HK, but despite a satisfying performance at the Olympics, she still does not possess the same level of international experience compared to Gullden.

The defence

Sabina Jacobsen and Linn Blohm are strong leaders in Sweden's usually solid 6-0 defence which will have to do well in order to start the counter attacks which are so crucial to Sweden.

At the same time when Sweden have the time to organise their 6-0 defence, it is hard to spot any real weaknesses. The defence is arguably their strongest part of the game.

The coach

At the moment, Henrik Signell has to share time and focus between the national team and the club he coaches, IK Sävehof.

This is nothing new in Swedish handball and so far Signell has been coping well with his double job.

His huge international experience from many EHF Champions League matches with Sävehof has been useful for him and the national team, and the fact that the core of the team consists of Sävehof players is also of help to him.

He is a modern coach with modern principles, involving his players as much as possible, and his strongest quality is his ability to make his players believe in themselves and each other.

Outlook

The expectations from the fans at home are high, and Signell confirms that he is determined to go along with those expectations: His goal is the semi-final.

In Group A of the preliminary round Sweden face Spain, Slovenia and Serbia and the team's first match against Spain may very well be a key match already.

In the main round, the Netherlands – now being coached by Sweden's former coach Helle Thomsen – and Olympic silver medalists France seem to be the highest hurdles standing in the way of Sweden´s semi-final hopes.

In fact, these two hurdles may be too high for the Swedish women to clear despite their home court advantage. This would make it impossible to repeat the success they enjoyed at the Women's EHF EURO 2014 when they won bronze and makes a final match for fifth position seem more likely.

The 16 players nominated by Sweden for the Women's EHF EURO 2016

Goalkeepers: Johanna Bundsen (IK Sävehof), Filipp Idéhn (Team Esbjerg)

Left wings: Louise Sand (IK Sävehof), Olivia Mellegård (IK Sävehof)

Left backs: Jamina Roberts (IK Sävehof), Jenny Alm (Team Esbjerg), Johanna Westberg (Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub)

Centre backs: Isabelle Gulldén (CSM Bucuresti), Carin Strömberg (Viborg HK)

Right backs: Sabina Jacobsen (FC Midtjylland), Ida Oden (IK Sävehof), Hanna Blomstrand (Lugi HF)

Right wings: Nathalie Hagman (Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub), Emma Ekeman-Fernis (IK Sävehof)

Line players: Linn Blohm (FC Midtjylland), Anna Lagerquist (Lugi HF)


TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts
 
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