08/01/2020

Sweden have gold in sight

EHF EURO COUNTDOWN #1: Sweden. Will home support drive Sweden to their first EHF EURO title since 2002?

Albin Lagergren is one of the stars of the Swedish team. Photo © EHF / Uros Hocevar

The Men’s EHF EURO 2020 marks the first time since 2011 that Sweden have hosted a major championship. In that year they finished fourth – but this year the talented squad have gold in their sights.

The team has improved heavily since coach Kristján Andrésson took over in 2016, but this year’s EHF EURO will be the Rhein-Neckar Löwen coach’s last appearance at the Swedish helm. Make no mistake, Sweden want to be in the final at the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm on January 26.

Three questions before the Men’s EHF EURO 2020:

- Will Sweden secure the nation’s first gold medal since 2002?

Sweden have not hosted a championship since 2011 when the team finished fourth in the Men's IHF World Championship. Two years ago the young team took home the silver medal in Croatia, the nation’s first medal since Olympic silver in 2012. But the last time Sweden took home a Men's EHF EURO gold medal was in 2002 when Germany was defeated in Stockholm. Sweden have the chance to win the trophy this year, but it will be a tough challenge with many world-class teams.

- How will the team manage without several of its stars?

No Niclas Ekberg, no Mattias Zachrisson and no Hampus Wanne. On top of that, Jerry Tollbring has spent most of his time on the bench for Rhein-Neckar Löwen recently. Sweden have always produced world class wing players, but this year the team must put their faith in the back-ups.

- Can Sweden perform on the biggest stage against rival teams?

In last year’s world championship Sweden impressed during the preliminary round and won five straight games. In the main round Scandinavian rivals Norway and Denmark awaited; Sweden lost both games and were out of the competition. In this year’s EHF EURO everything points to the chance of the same teams facing each other in the main round once more. Will Sweden win this time and make it to the final weekend?

Under the spotlight: Kim Ekdahl Du Rietz

The former Rhein-Neckar Löwen player ended his career a few years ago, before making a surprise comeback in 2018 at the German club and then joining Paris Saint-Germain. He also returned to the national team after several years for the world championship in 2019, but it became clear that he was not in full shape. However, this season the 30-year-old has impressed for PSG and in Sweden they hope that the left back will help the nation secure the gold medal.

Self-esteem

Sweden have all the ingredients to make it deep into the competition. Mikael Appelgren and Andreas Palicka are considered two of the Bundesliga’s best goalkeepers; in defence Max Darj and Kim Ekdahl Du Rietz set the tone; and Sweden also have several world-class back players. Jim Gottfridsson, Lukas Nilsson and Albin Lagergren are all among the best in the world in their positions. And don’t forget line player Andreas Nilsson, who is feared across Europe.

Fun fact

Sweden will play the preliminary round in Gothenburg and, if they make the main round, Malmö, the same venues they had great success in back in 2011. In Malmö a number of fans will be from Denmark, since the venue is only a 30-minute train ride from central Copenhagen.

What the numbers say

In November Lukas Nilsson turned 23 years old, but the EHF EURO 2020 will be his sixth international championship. His first tournament was EHF EURO 2016 when he was only 20 years old, and he has since featured in every championship and developed steadily. At the world championship last year the THW Kiel player was one of Sweden’s best performers.

written by Ola Selby / jh