Defence is key again for Sweden

EHF EURO TEAM COUNTDOWN #1: A strong defence is crucial to any handball team, and this applies even more to Sweden ahead of the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia

Photo: Senad Honic

Sweden’s coach Kristján Andrésson has already nominated his final 16-player squad for in Croatia.

Andrésson simply wants to give his players peace to prepare mentally for the tournament instead of being insecure if they will get nominated or not. He has been successful with this strategy at major championships in the past.


Only on two positions Andrésson has chosen to nominate three players: on the left back and on the line. In all other positions he has two options at his disposal.

The squad appears to be a promising mix of experienced players and young talents with potential. Several of them have already made their mark on top level, too.

Only three players from the domestic league are among the 16 nominated players.

Right back Albin Lagergren and left back Philip Henningsson both represent treble champions IFK Kristianstad, while Johan Jakobsson from IK Sävehof is back in the team on the right back position.

The biggest surprise is the fact that left back Marcus Olsson from Danish Skjern Handbold has not been nominated despite his convincing performances in the VELUX EHF Champions League as well as in the Danish league.


The strongest part of the Swedish attack will be the fast breaks like so often before. They should benefit from their strong 6-0 defence to score as many of those ‘easy’ goals on counter attacks as possible.

In this aspect of the game, the Swedes depend a lot on their fast wingers, Jerry Tollbring and Hampus Wanne on the left as well as Niclas Ekberg and Mattias Zachrisson on the opposite side.

To organise their established attacking play, Sweden depend a lot on the fitness of SG Flensburg-Handewitt playmaker Jim Gottfridsson, who possesses considerably more international experience than his colleague in the centre back position, Linus Arnesson from Bergischer HC, who has only appeared four times for Sweden so far.

On the line, Jesper Nielsen from Paris Saint-Germain Handball, Fredric Pettersson from Fenix Toulous and Max Darj from Bergischer HC will be ready to benefit from the backcourt line and make way for the backs.

In the backcourt line, the return of the experienced right back Johan Jakobsson looks to be an obvious reinforcement.


The traditional 6-0 formation is still the backbone of the Swedish team as it has been for decades, although this defence system has developed over the years in Sweden, too.

The central defence, mainly consisting of Jesper Nielsen and Fredric Pettersson, will have to stand solid, but the entire defence line will have to be consistent in order to give the two Rhein-Neckar Löwen goalkeepers, Mikael Appelgren and Andreas Palicka, the best possible working conditions.

A solid defence is also necessary as the basis for the fast breaks, which are crucial if Sweden are to score a sufficient number of goals to win their matches.

There is every reason to have faith in the Swedish defence, and also in the experienced Bundesliga keepers Appelgren and Palicka.


Kristján Andrésson, who took over as national coach after the 2016 Rio Olympics, has been succesful in charge of ‘Tre Kronor.’

The 36-year-old Icelandic coach, who was in charge of the Swedish league team Eskilstuna Guif before becoming national coach, is known for his tactical eye, his thorough preparations and his good communication with the players.

The Swedish coaching team has been reinforced even further with former team and THW Kiel left back Martin Boquist, who joined in the autumn of 2016.

In particular, Andrésson and Boquist have made themselves known for giving trust to young talents, supplemented with a few experienced veterans. That strategy has proved to be a success so far.

It will be interesting to see if it will also be the case in Croatia.


Sweden are going to play their preliminary matches in Group A in Split, where the Croatian hosts and Serbia will be opponents alongside Iceland.

Obviously a tough group, but that was always going to be expected from a tournament with Europe’s 16 best teams.

To Sweden, as for the other three teams in the group, it could be anything from the group win to an early exit.

Sweden may find encouragement in the fact that the attacking play of all three group opponents seems to suit their 6-0 defence rather well.

This obviously makes the defence even more crucial for the Scandinavians.

It could become yet another tournament where Sweden win their games in their defence.

The 16 players selected by Sweden for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018:

Goalkeepers: Mikael Appelgren and Andreas Palicka (both Rhein-Neckar Löwen)

Left wings: Jerry Tollbring (Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Hampus Wanne (SG Flensburg-Handewitt)

Right wings: Niclas Ekberg (THW Kiel), Mattias Zachrisson (Füchse Berlin)

Left backs: Lukas Nilsson (THW Kiel), Simon Jeppsson (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Philip Henningsson (IFK Kristianstad)

Right backs: Johan Jakobsson (IK Sävehof), Albin Lagergren (IKF Kristianstad)

Centre backs: Jim Gottfridsson (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Linus Arnesson (Bergischer HC)

Line players: Jesper Nielsen (Paris Saint-Germain Handball), Fredric Pettersson (Fenix Toulouse), Max Darj (Bergischer HC)

written by Peter Bruun / ew / ts