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16.03.2018, 10:54
Gullden: “Everyone needs to play at this level all the time”
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FEATURE: Sweden enter their upcoming double-header against Serbia on the back of their best ever ranking at the World Championship, but Isabelle Gullden says they can take nothing for granted
 

Gullden: “Everyone needs to play at this level all the time”

The Women’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification matches at the end of March mark the first official competitive games since the World Championship 2017, where Sweden achieved an historic fourth-place that represented their highest ever ranking at the tournament.

After being a dangerous team on the cusp of breaking into the top positions at major international events, Sweden have established themselves as not only one of the favoured sides to book a place at the EHF EURO in France, but also as a medal threat.

For EHF EURO 2014 MVP and top scorer Isabelle Gullden, the impact of the recent success is difficult to determine as yet.

“I think we cannot take everything like this for granted, because we took a fourth place and we played a good championship. Everyone needs to play at this level all the time,” says Gullden. “Of course, it's always nice to have a good championship in the back to go forward, so I think it's good, but we still have some things to improve.”

Team cohesion a key to recent success

After disappointing results at the most recent international tournaments preceding the World Championship, which saw the team exit their home EHF EURO in 2016 at the end of the main round and elimination in the quarter-final stage of the Olympic Games, Sweden’s qualification for the semi-finals in Germany was reason for celebration. There were few changes in the team line-up from the EHF EURO 2016, and Gullden says the additional time together was a key factor in their improved results.

"We were always focused on the small details and [saying] that we need more time together, that we were a new team – not a new team, but we had some new players. We were saying that we really need more time together, to see and put some demands on each other,” says Gullden, before explaining that in Germany an important part of their success was the team cohesion.

"We all were included in the tactics and in the field. You could see that many players stepped up in different matches. We had Johanna Bundsen in one match, Johanna Westerg in one, Hanna Blomstrand came in the quarter-final and showed that she's a rising star. I think we were really good together, all of us were included, and I think that's what led to more success."

Clash of the group 3 leaders

Although the recent results mean Sweden are perhaps more confident than they have been for some time, Gullden is aware they face a difficult opponent in the upcoming qualification matches. Both Serbia and Sweden enter the double header equal on four points, with two victories behind them from the opening rounds in September and October.

"I think we are ready for the qualification, but we are up against Serbia – they have a good team now all their stars are back, so of course it will be hard,” says Gullden, who contributed seven goals to Sweden’s first two qualification victories, against Faroe Islands and FYR Macedonia.

"It will be hard when we play in Serbia, for sure. They have [Andrea] Lekic, they have [Dragana] Cvijic, and they still have a second pivot, [Sladana] Pop-Lazic, who is really good, so I think they look strong.”

 A positive few months for handball in Sweden

It is not only the Sweden women’s team who have enjoyed success in recent months, as the men’s side were something of a surprise at the Men’s EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia, where they finished with the silver medal.

"I don't know about them, but of course we are watching the championships they play. They have a new team, a young team, and they are inspiring. They are really good together and they really work as a team, and I think this is what we are doing now also,” says Gullden. “It's really nice that both teams are performing and getting results, because we work a lot and we work hard for it.

"It's always good for the handball, because handball is not so big in Sweden, so when both of us are performing it can be good for kids to start playing handball also – then it can be bigger."


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ts
 
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