December 4, 2016
Finally – EURO 2016 in Sweden went underway with the match between Serbia and Slovenia (36:34) serving as the appetizer, followed by the main course – in front of 7,900 enthusiastic spectators at Stockholm’s Hovet arena – Sweden versus Spain.
The 3rd best team at EURO’14 against the finalist of the previous championship on European soil. “Bella” Gullden versus Macarena Aguilar, Nathalie Hagman versus Carmen Martin, or Johanna Bundsen versus Silvia Navarro. It does not get much better than that in the world of handball. Prior to throw-off, the game was labeled as the “final” of Group A, played on day one of the most competitive women handball tournament there is.
The Swedish host beat the squad from southern Europe decisively 25:19 (14:10) – although, it did not look like it during the initial 15 minutes of the match. At first, the impressive crowd appeared to have a paralyzing effect on Gullden & Co. But once head coach Signell began shuffling the deck – replacing Linn Blohm (pivot) with Anna Lagerquist and Jenny Alm (left-back) with Jamina Roberts and moving Nathalie Hagman to the right-back position – Sweden’s offensive game gained in structure and direction.
Between minute 20 – 30, Sweden outscored Spain 7:3, following a timid start. Nathalie Hagman (4 goals) and the handball artistry of “Bella” Gullden had kept the host in the game until then, before Olivia Mellegard on left wing and Jamina Roberts secured a four-goal half time lead. Spain had gone cold after a decent beginning.
The squad of coach Signell continued where they left off before the break. Slowly but surely, Jenny Alm found her rhythm while hitting the target more consistently, scoring four of her five goals in the second half.
Back in defense, Johanna Bundsen shut her goal and Spain’s scoring efforts were largely reduced to Carmen Martin (7 goals) and to a somewhat lesser degree, Marta Mangue (3 goals) – they were the only two players deserving of the team’s nickname “Guerreras” – at least today.
Sweden’s only soft period came between minute 45 – 55, but it did not bear any negative consequences as their 8-goal margin proved to be too much to overcome.
Goal of the Match
The honor goes to Carmen Martin. Her shot from right-wing, reducing the score to 17:23, was the Spanish highlight of the day – world class.
Celebrity in Attendance
Sweden’s prince found his way to the arena supporting the home team together with his son – but unlike the vast majority of the crowd, he chose to not wear the “yellow” shirt – setting himself up for some unfavorable comments in Sweden’s yellow press.
Player(s) of the Match
Aside from Bundsen’s fantatstic performance in goal – especially in the second half – Sweden’s Nathalie Hagmann impressed the most, keeping her teammates in the game during the first 30-minutes.
Coach of the Match
Henrik Signell clearly out-coached his opponent – no question. Jorge Duenas could not come up with the necessary answers to swing the score in his team’s favor. His decision for a more offensive coverage of Alm and Gullden late in the second half came – too late.
Sweden’s next match against Slovenia, on Tuesday is likely to turn into a competitive practice session, considering the Balkan’s squad poor defense performance in the game against Serbia. It will be a chance for coach Signell to rest some of his players (Hagman, Gullden, Blohm) that are hurt while making use of his bench.
After 15 sluggish minutes, Sweden found their way into the tournament, beating Spain rather easily. The next true stress test will not come before next week, when the “Tre Kronors” will meet the likes of France, The Netherlands and possibly Germany – who pulled an unexpected victory against a previously highflying Dutch crew in tonight’s Group B match.