‘Gotte’s guys’ and seven other talking points
A final win by one goal, Sweden back on the podium, two extra time games, a historic bronze-medal victory, unsung heroes stepping up and an ‘MVP curse’ broken — the final weekend of the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 had it all. We take a closer look at how the last two days of action unfolded in Budapest.
1. The era of ‘Gotte’s guys’?
Sweden celebrated their last EHF EURO title precisely 20 years ago — their last trophy in any competition. The two-decade wait came to an end on Sunday night when Niclas Ekberg sunk the penalty goal that took the score to 27:26 after the buzzer in an edge-of-seat match.
They did not win the trophy in 2018 but Sweden have still reached two finals within three editions — just as the era of the ‘Bengan boys’ started in 1994. Spain and the 1990s Swedish generation showed us that once you win the EHF EURO, a secret to taking this particular title seems to be unlocked. Have Sweden now found the key?
On top of that, Sweden were in the final of the World Championship one year ago and placed just outside the medals, at fifth, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August. We have well and truly entered a new era with Sweden as one of the top powerhouses, and EHF EURO 2022 MVP Jim Gottfridsson is leading it.
Let’s see what Gotte’s guys can do next.
2. Gottfridsson breaks the ‘MVP curse’
Speaking of Gottfridsson, no player in recent years has been able to celebrate the EHF EURO MVP award the way he did — and that is because the MVP of every edition since Nikola Karabatic in 2014 had just lost the final.
In 2016, Spain captain Raul Entrerrios had been defeated by Germany. In 2018, it was Gottfridsson himself, who lost to Spain. In 2020, Domagoj Duvnjak was presented after Spain beat Croatia.
The series has also included the Women’s EHF EURO — but there it extends all the way back to 2008, when Norway’s Kristine Lunde received the individual nod.
3. Spain extend their own series
Although they missed out on defending their title, Spain still added another medal to their collection — and they already had the record in this category, with four silver medals won before 2022. Now, the ‘Hispanos’ have five silver medals won at the EHF EURO.
They are also the record medal winners overall, with now a total of nine in the competition. Can they make it a 10th in 2024?
And let us not forget that Spain have reached every EURO final since 2016 and every EURO semi-final since 2012. An extraordinary feat.
4. Holm, the next big Danish hero
An incredible fight for the bronze medal delivered by familiar rivals France and Denmark ended with the Scandinavian team taking their first ever EHF EURO victory against the Olympic title holders.
After an entirely level match in regular time, Denmark were far stronger in the extra time period, outscoring France 6:3 in those 10 minutes. And they did it without their two leading backs Mikkel Hansen and Mathias Gidsel.
While both Rasmus Lauge and Jacob Holm starred in Denmark’s attack in the critical extra time period, Holm in particular showed just how he can step into a leading role for the team. Holm was the top scorer of the bronze-medal match, scoring 10, after he netted nine against France in similar circumstances — with Hansen and Gidsel out — on the last main round day.
5. Watch out for Iceland
No doubt their praises have already been sung and they may have lost their last game at the EHF EURO — the fifth-place match against Norway — but Iceland really showed they are hot favourites for medals in the years to come with their campaign in Budapest. And their defeat to Norway by only one goal that came right on the buzzer at the end of extra time confirmed that.
They will be the highest-ranked side from the EHF EURO to contest the World Championship play-offs, going directly to round 2 where they will meet the winner of the round 1 encounter between Austria and Estonia. Iceland would appear firm favourites against both teams and could then be among the strong medal chances at the event.
And we only need to wait two years before the opportunity to see them back at the EHF EURO. From 13th in 2018 to 11th in 2020 to sixth in 2022 — what will they achieve in 2024?
6. That resting decision
It was one of the most talked about decisions of the EHF EURO, when Denmark chose to leave Mikkel Hansen and Mathias Gidsel off the start list for their decisive clash against France on the last main round day.
Would Denmark have beaten France with the two on the court or bench and then had a stronger semi-final chance against Sweden? Or would the story have unfolded exactly as it did?
In the end, Denmark faced France in the bronze-medal match without the two All-star Team backs anyway, and this time it ended in their first ever EHF EURO victory against the side. But the ‘what if?’ certainly provided us some entertainment and draws more interest to decisions regarding resting big stars ahead of important clashes.
7. The critical battle between the posts
Iceland’s Viktor Hallgrimson was named All-star Team goalkeeper after a memorable EHF EURO 2022 but let us take a closer look at the semi-finalists in his position.
France’s starter Vincent Gerard was below his best in the semi-final against Sweden, where Andreas Palicka stole the show with 12 saves — including two match winners in the final seconds of extra time.
Although Gerard found his form in the bronze-medal game, Denmark’s Niklas Landin had the arguably stronger match. Both recorded the same number of saves, but four of Landin’s came in the extra time period while Gerard was largely dominant early in the match.
Landin was also exceptional in the opening of the semi-final against Spain. However, like Gerard in the bronze-medal match, was ultimately outperformed by Gonzalo Perez de Vargas.
In the final, Palicka made 11 saves to win the goalkeeper battle over his Spanish counterparts.
And so we clearly see the — albeit unsurprisingly — key role of goalkeepers on the final weekend. Every match won saw an obvious trend of a goalkeeper stronger than their rivals between the posts.
8. Balic. Karabatic. Gottfridsson
Yes, Gottfridsson again — but when you join a very short list that includes only Ivano Balic and Nikola Karabatic, you become a legend. The Sweden centre back’s consistently superb performances at the EHF EURO had him as the clear standout choice for MVP, as he delivered again and again and was perhaps the main driver for Sweden’s semi-final victory against France and was key again in the final.
He has taken the EHF EURO title, a World Championship medal and won the EHF Champions League — and is still only 29. We can expect more greatness from the Swede before his time on court is up.
Photo Gottfridsson/Sweden © Sasa Pahic Szabo / kolektiff