The swan song of the Bengan Boys

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COLUMN – When the two Bengan Boys, Staffan Olsson and Ola Lindgren bow out as Swedish national coaches after the Rio Olympics, the last touch of the most famous era in Swedish handball history may vanish with them.

By Peter Bruun

The Bengan Boys – an era in the history of Swedish handball, that will never be forgotten.

The fantastic national team of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s under legendary coach – or federation’s captain, as the Swedes call it – Bengt “Bengan” Johansson; the squad that won everything worth winning in national team handball for more than a decade – World Championships, European Championships – except one triumph they never accomplished – Olympic gold.

They won the silver medal three times, but never made it to the top of the podium at an Olympic competition.  When the Olympic handball tournament in Rio de Janeiro starts this coming Sunday, two Bengan Boys will be in charge of the Swedish team.

Staffan Olsson and Ola Lindgren were both among Bengt Johanssons´s legendary lads, as right-back and line player.  The Rio Olympics will be Olsson’s and Lindgren´s last job as national coaches, and with them, the last touch of the Bengan Boys may vanish from the Swedish national team.

As these lines are written, no successor to Olsson and Lindgren has been found. Fact of the matter is that two other Bengan Boys, Ljubomir Vranjes and Magnus Anderssson, have both turned down the job.

This may indeed indicate that the era of the legendary Bengan Boys in Swedish national team handball is coming to an end.

At least, Olsson and Lindgren can attend their last tournament with the national team without the pressure that was constantly hanging over the Bengan Boys in their playing days.  No one expects them to take Olympic gold this time around.

Hoping for another 2012

 Of course, you cannot rule out another sensation like the one in 2012, when Sweden returned to the international top for a while, winning the silver medal – their fourth Olympic silver – at the London Olympics.  Four years ago, Sweden was just as much an underdog with regards to winning precious metal, as they are now.

But, thanks to a number of magnificent performances from star player Kim Andersson, they managed to land a surprising victory against Denmark in the quarter-final and another win against Hungary in the semi-final, before France became too much to handle in the final match of the tournament.  Something similar might happen again, but it does not appear a likely scenario.

Since those days in London, the Swedes have not created much of a buzz before they qualified for Rio, ahead of Spain on home ground in April.

Furthermore, Sweden are handicapped on both wings because of the injuries of Niclas Ekberg (right wing) and Jonas Källman (left wing) – while left back Viktor Östlund´s groin injury reduces the number of options in the back court.

Putting faith in Andersson once again

 With all these handicaps, it has been a relief to Olsson, Lindgren and the rest of Sweden, that Kim Andersson has reported fit to play.   Since his stellar performance in London four years ago, the now 33-year-old right back´s life has been one injury nightmare.

First a shoulder injury forced him to leave Danish handball powerhouse KIF Kolding København, to return to his childhood club Ystad IF.  And more recently, knee problems have bothered him.

However, when he is ready to go, he still is one of the best right-backs the world has ever seen; still capable of performing at the absolute top level.  Therefore, it is no wonder that Sweden have put their faith in the hands of the experienced Andersson once again, in hope for another success in Brazil.  The question is if one player will be enough to lift the whole team?

A long and winding road

During preliminary group play – the opponents are the European champions from Germany, Poland, the Brazilian host, Slovenia and Egypt – the Swedes can feel fairly sure to advance to the next stage.

Still, they will have to fight for every point they can get and even though they should be able to be among the four teams that reach the quarter-finals, things may change significantly, if and when they get that far. Teams like France, Croatia or Denmark will be the most likely candidates in a possible quarter-final, and the Swedes will obviously need another “2012 performance” to get past these nations.

There is no doubt, that the road to success for the last two Bengan Boys in the Swedish national team will be a long and winding one but at least, it will be free of expectations back home.

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