Defence wins you championships, and both Sweden and France knew that – and after their opening EHF EURO 2018 Main Round Group I match in Arena Zagreb, the fact is clearer than ever. The two sides finished the preliminary round with the third and fourth most effective attacks in the competition, so it was a surprise when their clash ended with the lowest number of goals scored so far in one match: 40.
Vincent Gerard had one of the best games in his career, recording 19 saves for an other-worldly 53 per cent save rate, leading France to their fourth win in a row at the EHF EURO 2018, 23:17 (10:8), against Sweden.
"We played really a good game. Our defence was excellent today," Gerard commented.
“We are proud and very happy about this win as we knew how important this match was. Sweden are dangerous with high quality play, so this is surely a great win,” his teammate Kentin Mahe said.
The Scandinavian side scored their lowest number of goals in their 76 games at Men’s EHF EUROs – four goals less than their previous record.
It was a prolific preliminary round for Sweden, the team with the fourth best attack at the EHF EURO, at an average of 29.6 goals scored per game. But it all changed in the first 14 minutes of the match against France, where a combination of majestic goalkeeping and lack of efficiency saw the Scandinavian side score only twice.
There is no such thing as a perfect game in handball, but France goalkeeper Vincent Gerard was as close as he could possibly get. After 15 minutes, he had already saved 11 shots, including four in one-on-one situations against attackers. At that point his percentage stood at an incredible 81 per cent, and Sweden coach Kristjan Andresson called a time-out to calm his nervous players.
Aside from an excellent line player Cedric Sorhaindo, France also had attacking woes, with seven turnovers that prevented coach Didier Dinart’s side from opening a score line greater than four goals, 8:4, after 20 minutes.
France line player Luka Karabatic was sent off with a direct red card after only six minutes and seven seconds in what was his maiden game at the EHF EURO, after which Sweden breathed new life and recorded a 3:0 run that cut the gap to only one goal, 8:9.
Lowest number of EHF EURO goals for Sweden
There was still fight left in Sweden, though they were frustrated by a classic performance from Gerard, which will be remembered for a long time in EHF EURO history. Therefore, it was little surprise when the Scandinavian side levelled the game, 12:12, with 20 minutes to go.
But France was not done yet. More of Gerard’s amazing saves and more cohesive attack saw ‘Les Experts’ jump to a 6:1 partial between the 46th and the 52nd minutes, creating an unassailable 20:14 gap.
As Sweden tried to wrestle with the only team that boasts a perfect record at the EHF EURO 2018, there was nothing Andresson’s side could do in attack – and at the final whistle, their chances of progressing to the semi-finals looked significantly slimmer.
"The both teams played very good in defence and we both had good goalkeepers. Our attack and our shots were too bad compared to the other games we played on this tournament. They were better and they deserved the win," admitted Albin Lagergren after the game.
"They play very physical and we knew that but I think we had so many good chances and we should have scored more goals."
France are now leading the group with six points and could book their semi-final place on Monday, while Sweden are two points behind, and will face Norway and Belarus in their last two games in Group I.