Sweden’s road to the future starts in Herning
Sweden are set for their 10th straight participation in an EHF EURO final tournament and hope to repeat the feat they have managed twice – reaching the semi-finals.
Under the guidance of new coach Tomas Axner, the Scandinavian side are ready to face some very familiar opponents in the preliminary round.
Notable absences in the Sweden squad in comparison with recent events include their big shooter Mikaela Mässing, goalkeeper Johanna Bundsen, defensive specialist Sabina Jacobsen and right back Hanna Blomstrand.
The main round is within reach, but can Sweden carry points into it?
At the EHF EURO 2020, Sweden were drawn into group B, featuring two semi-finalists from the World Championship 2019, Spain and Russia, along with Czech Republic.
Fans will naturally remember that it was Russia who played France for the title in 2018, making them a hot favourite at this year’s EURO. As world silver medallists, Spain are another major contender.
Sweden played both Russia and Spain at the World Championship one year ago, losing decisively to Russia and drawing with Spain. The clashes will not be unwinnable, but Sweden will not be considered the favourites ahead of either.
Czech Republic did not play this most recent major international championship or meet Sweden in 2018 in France. But Sweden faced the Czechs in the preliminary round at the World Championship 2017, taking a 36:32 win.
So, it appears Sweden have the main round firmly within their grasp – but will they be able to take any points into the next stage? The only way is to beat the teams progressing with them. That appears to be the main fight the EHF EURO 2014 bronze medallists will have on their hands in the opening stage.
What will new coach Tomas Axner bring to the squad?
In March this year, Tomas Axner was named the head coach of the team. Axner, himself a former player, hopes to continue building on the work of former national team coach Henrik Signell, who succeeded in securing rankings in the top eight at all major championships since he took the helm in 2016.
“Sweden have performed at an even and high level for a long time and are always among the top eight in the world. We want to tip over so that there will be more semi-final places, that we are fighting for the medals more often and will find the small details that allow us to be top four in the world instead of top eight,” said Axner.
At the end of October, Axner announced a 19-player squad for the event, which includes five players who have never participated in a major championship.
It is not surprising that Axner would bring in some fresh players, as he previously stated that he has been following not only the national team and the players in it in their club competitions for several years, but Sweden’s youth age category squads.
Aside from the new mix of names, Axner has highlighted a focus on defence and counter-attack goals.
What the numbers say: Gulldén to join all-time front-runners?
Isabelle Gulldén is among the top scorers in the history of the EHF EURO (currently fifth), entering the 2020 edition with a total of 187 scored in her career. She needs just four goals to pass fourth-ranked Norwegian Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren (190 goals), and third-placed Germany’s Grit Jurack (194) is only a few goals away after that.
Now aged 31, Gulldén has been part of Sweden’s biggest successes in this competition: the silver medal in 2010 and the bronze in 2014, when she was named MVP of the tournament and finished as top scorer.
Gulldén is also the third top scorer for the Sweden national team, having contributed 827 goals in her career. Gulldén will undoubtedly remain one of the biggest weapons for Sweden at the EHF EURO 2020.
Another leader in the Sweden team, Nathalie Hagman, ranks eighth on the all-time statistics for the national side, with 492 goals. Hagman produced one of the most memorable individual performances of the EHF EURO 2018 in the main round match versus Russia, as she notched up 17 goals, thereby equalling the record for most goals in one EURO game set by Poland’s Karolina Kudlacz-Gloc in 2006.
Under the spotlight: Blohm and Lagerquist bring quality on the line
While the focus on Sweden usually tends towards stars like Gullden and Hagman, the side can rely on ever-increasing power in their game on the line.
At the World Championship 2019, Linn Blohm was named the All-star Team line player, after scoring 41 goals in the event. She missed only eight shots in nine games, recording by far the highest accuracy of any player in the top 15.
This season, Blohm joined Romanian club CS Minaur Baia Mare, where she plays alongside national team goalkeeper Filippa Idehn.
Meanwhile, Anna Lagerquist has been plying her trade in the top level, with Rostov-Don in the DELO EHF Champions League. So far it has not been as high scoring of a season as she has been known to have, with her 2018/19 year with Nykøbing Falster (42 goals) standing out. That year, Lagerquist was named the Swedish Female Player of the Year.
For a player like centre back and attacking mastermind Gulldén, having two quality line players to work with is a big asset. Gulldén was the team’s second top scorer at the EHF EURO 2018 (25 goals, behind Hagman on 35), but she is well known for great passes to the line. This element of Sweden’s game could be a very important one.
EHF EURO participations (including 2020): 13