“The future is bright, but next the step is hard”
April 11, 2023
by Sascha Staat
Tomas Axner has been at the helm of the Swedish national team since the summer of 2020. Under his guidance the squad has shown a steady improvement. With a World championship on home soil coming up at the end of the year, the expectations are getting higher. But Axner says it needs time to beat the big ones and win medals.
Tomas, you lost by two goals, but I think it was still a good performance against Denmark. Do you agree or do you see it in a different way?
TA: I think overall it’s a good performance. We played away in front of 8.000 people and we only lost by two goals. And, we had a chance to make it even in the end. So, I’m satisfied and I’m also satisfied with our defense in the second half and our attack in the first half. But, we also had several open shots in the second half that we missed. That explains the difference, I think. Today our goalkeeping was phenomenal in the second half. I’m satisfied, but I wished for a little bit more today.
What worked out so well in the first ten minutes? It looked like you had the game under control.
TA: Yes, I think we had good control in defense. In the first ten minutes, they only scored maybe one or two goals. Then we had some problems with the line player, because she moved in other ways as she usually does, and that created some confusion in our defense. It got a bit stretched. We scored 17 goals in the first half, but it’s not so often that we concede 18 goals in 30 minutes. Normally, our strongest part is our defense.
Everybody is talking about the big three in women’s handball right now – Norway, Denmark and France. When pundits talk about the teams right thereafter, many of the experts mention Sweden first. What’s your take on it?
TA: Well, in the last few tournaments we have been close to the medals. We finished fourth at the Olympics. We were very close to beat France in the semifinal. Of course, we want to close the gap to the top three. But, we also know that the Netherlands, Germany and Spain and other countries are also there to take this position. We want to keep it. But, we also want to close the gap and start playing the semifinals and compete for the medals. We work hard for it.
Isabelle Gullden said some days ago that it’s all about patience, but it can also happen in December. Do you think so as well? The pressure will be significant when playing at home.
TA: Yes, I think so. That’s why we want to play these games. We played two times against Denmark and two times against France away from home. We want to compete against the best teams more often. That’s the way to close the gap. Because if you only meet them at the end of a tournament and you never got used to how high you must jump, how hard you must shoot and how fast you must run, then you’ll never catch up. I think these games are very good for us in the long run.
Is the key to win games in a semifinal or reach the semifinal just the mind of the players?
TA: I think it’s a bit the mind set of the players – sure. But, in a tournament, you also play a lot of games. When you never play against the good teams in the beginning, then you are a bit shocked when you play against them in the end. We played against France in the quarterfinals in Spain in 2021, we played against Norway in the bronze medal game at the Olympics, and I think we only lost against Denmark and Norway, number one and two, at the last championship in November. So, sometimes you’ll also have to find the right draw to go all the way. That’s also part of it. And, we had some tough draws lately.
But, you’re absolutely on the right way?!
TA: Yes, I think so. I am convinced that the players are developing well. Denmark didn’t have all their key players on the field today and so did we. Anna Lagerqvist is a critical player in our defense. We build a lot around her. And, we only had one left-handed right-back. We hope Nina Dano and some other players will be back and then we’ll be even stronger. In addition, we also have the younger national team who are improving. The future is bright, but next the step is hard.