Sweden hopeful but “can affect only the two games we play”
Almost one year ago, at the World Championship, Sweden secured their second-best result in history as they ranked fifth at the event in Spain. 15 months ago, the Scandinavian side were reaching the Olympic semi-finals for the first time ever, ultimately placing fourth at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Although they have not taken a medal, Sweden have had some of the strongest results of any team in the last 15 months. Only Norway and France had better records in this period, with Norway winning the world title in Spain and beating Sweden for bronze at Tokyo 2020, and France taking Olympic gold and silver at the World Championship.
Now, Sweden are chasing a return to the EHF EURO semi-finals after contesting them twice before, in 2010 and 2014.
The semi-final race in group I is down to four teams: Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Slovenia, with Denmark and Norway in the strongest positions after the second main round day in Ljubljana. Sweden must win their last two games in the main round in order to progress to the semi-finals, but their fate is not entirely in their hands, as they rely on other results to go their way as well.
On Saturday, Sweden were defeated by Norway in a thrilling game that saw the winner decided only in the final minutes after an equal match up to that point.
“It was a good handball game. It was a good fight from both teams. Of course, I wanted to end with a win for us, but in the end, it was a good handball game” said Sweden centre back Jenny Carlson, who scored nine goals against Norway.
“When we don’t score and we do some mistake and they score… I think you cannot do that against Norway because then they can just keep the lead.”
Now, Sweden look ahead to their next match, against Hungary on Monday (live on EHFTV at 20:30 CET). Sweden will conclude the main round against Croatia on Wednesday. Both Hungary and Croatia are out of semi-final contention, but Sweden cannot expect easy matches nonetheless.
“There isn’t so much time to to dwell on the past and we need to look forward because we have a really important game [against Hungary],” says Sweden line player Anna Lagerquist, mainly a defensive specialist at the EHF EURO 2022.
Lagerquist expects two tough games to end the main round, and while it is not ideal to have their fate controlled by others, Sweden need to focus only on the task in front of them.
“It’s also two games that we really need to win to have a chance to advance. And, of course, now everything is not up to us. We need to have some other results go our way, but the thing that we can affect is these two games and we will do everything we can to win.”
Sharing her attacking position with Linn Blohm, Lagerquist has been mainly focused on defence at the EHF EURO 2022. It is one area Sweden have been working on continuously since Tomas Axner took the helm as head coach at the end of 2020. Lagerquist highlights defence as Sweden’s strength at the EURO, which helped them to a strong preliminary round campaign that meant they topped group B in Celje.
“Most parts of our games we have had really good, tough defence, which is our main goal, and also to have the fast attacks after that. So I think that we are very pleased with that. We will need to keep working on that and also to keep evolving our attack game,” says Lagerquist.
“We always say that we create, like, a security in the defence — that we always know, even if maybe we don’t score on our chances, if we have some trouble in attack, we will always come back to our defence to feel secure and to take this feeling of security into the attack.”
Most parts of our games we have had really good, tough defence, which is our main goal, and also to have the fast attacks after that. So I think that we are very pleased with that. We will need to keep working on that and also to keep evolving our attack game.
Sweden’s position is not at all an uncommon one at a major championship, where teams often end up relying on the results of others in order to secure progression to the next phase of an event. So, as they look ahead to Hungary and Croatia, how do Sweden handle that situation?
“It’s not the optimal situation. We would prefer to have it all in our hands, but I think it’s also a lot of just acceptance,” says Lagerquist. “Now we know this is the situation, so it’s not so much we can affect now — and the things we can affect are the two games we will play. And I think that also gives us just, like, this focus: OK, the things we can affect are the things we need to put our focus to and we will do everything we can.”