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15.02.2018, 14:20
Boosted by EHF EURO silver, Ekberg eyes more success with Kiel
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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: The Swedish right wing talks exclusively to ehfCL.com about silverware, self-assurance and stability prior to THW Kiel’s trip to Aalborg in the Champions League on Sunday
 

Boosted by EHF EURO silver, Ekberg eyes more success with Kiel

After winning a surprising silver medal at the Men’s EHF EURO 2018 with Sweden last month, Niclas Ekberg is back to club business.

And the 29-year-old old right wing has continued his successful start to 2018 as he became THW Kiel’s best scorer in the German side’s first VELUX EHF Champions League match after the winter break against Telekom Veszprém last week. He added seven goals to Kiel’s 22:20 victory, just as many as fellow Swede Lukas Nilsson.

Talking exclusively to ehfCL.com, the top scorer and silver medallist of the 2012 Olympic Games in London looks back on the EHF EURO and forward to the Champions League season. On Sunday. Kiel travel to side Aalborg on Sunday (live on ehfTV.com), accompanied by more than 500 THW fans.

ehfCL.com: The EHF EURO 2018 is history, you returned to your club, decorated with the silver medal. Did you expect this outcome?

Niclas Ekberg: The EHF EURO was a truly positive tournament for us, in which we definitely profited from the playing system. We lost four matches but won the silver medals, which was a major and surprising success for our young Swedish team. Now we hope to build a positive future on this result. Our coach had prepared us well, even in calculating, so we managed to get the results we needed to make it to the semi-final…

ehfCL.com: … in which you beat Denmark after extra time in one of the strongest Swedish matches in Croatia.

Niclas Ekberg: Yes, this is true. We had some injury setbacks during the tournament and mainly against Denmark our reconstructed team showed a great moral. The Danes scored the last two goals in the regular time, which normally means a clear psychological advantage. But we remained calm and patient in extra time and exactly followed our match plan.

ehfCL.com: Was the EHF EURO final against Spain a similar situation for you like the 2012 Olympic final against France as Sweden were the underdogs in both games?

Niclas Ekberg: For me personally it was not comparable. In London I was one of the youngest players and at Olympic Games you have so many things to see and to experience beside the matches. This is a major difference to World or European Championships.

ehfCL.com: During the Olympic Games your club AG København announced their bankruptcy. You had to search a new club, which you found in Kiel.

Niclas Ekberg: Maybe it was the best for me that I was far away from home and club, and that I could focus on the matches in London. So I was not hit that hard in that particular moment. But when I returned home, I realized my situation. The next two weeks were really heavy for me. Fortunately the offer from THW Kiel came quite quick, and it was not the worst thing to sign for the defending VELUX EHF Champions League champions at that time… (laughs).

ehfCL.com: Now you are playing your sixth season for Kiel and have just extended your contract until 2019. Has the EHF EURO silver medal boosted your performing level and that of your Swedish teammate Lukas Nilsson? You both were instrumental in Kiel’s victory against Veszprém.

Niclas Ekberg: Definitely yes. Lukas and I took the momentum along from Croatia to Kiel. When you have just experienced a success like our silver medals, it is much easier to find the rhythm on club level.

ehfCL.com: Thanks to the victory against Veszprém, Kiel not only booked their Last 16 ticket but also took their fourth straight Champions League win. Are THW playing more stable compared to some disappointing weeks in October and November?

Niclas Ekberg: Indeed, we found a way out of those setbacks and we already showed some strong performances in December. We play with more self-assurance and confidence. The turning points were the away wins at Celje and Flensburg, as from then on we have been showing what we are capable of. We have found our pace and rhythm again, we turned pressure into easiness, the stress has gone, and then it is much easier to win, like we proved against Veszprém.

ehfCL.com: Is this easiness a matter of Scandinavian mentality?

Niclas Ekberg: I guess so as we have the same attitude in the Swedish national team. You should not bury your head in the sand after you made a mistake but you should simply carry on. If you think and play like this, your chances to win are much higher.

ehfCL.com: On Sunday, you return to Scandinavia for the duel with Aalborg. 500 THW fans will travel there to support your team; does this make the team proud?

Niclas Ekberg: We hope to have something like a home match away and that this support from the stands will boost us. Even when we were down, our fans have always stood behind us like a wall of black and white.

ehfCL.com: Three matches - including those against Kielce and Paris - are still coming up. Currently Kiel are ranked fourth in Group B, just two points below second-ranked Flensburg. Where will the group phase journey end?

Niclas Ekberg: I don’t know as we do not think that far ahead. Now it is Aalborg, then Kielce, then Paris. But if we play on the same level like against Veszprém, the pressure on our opponents will increase. All teams now know that THW Kiel are back on track and they will have more respect. So I simply hope to continue on our current way.

ehfCL.com: Taking into account this step-by-step mentality, it is too early to ask about the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne?

Niclas Ekberg: We undoubtedly want to make it all the way, of course, but the way to Cologne is definitely not easy. The whole level of the VELUX EHF Champions League has improved. Many more clubs than some years ago have the ability to qualify for the FINAL4. Usually it was a certainty that at least one German club made it to Cologne, but in 2017 it was none. I hope that for us everything is possible again, but the way is still a really long one.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew
 
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