Young guns clash in Lille eighth-final

BIE SUE

22 January 2017

Eighth-final: 16:00 in Lille, Belarus vs Sweden

Head-to-head: At the highest level, the two teams have met twice in the history of the IHF Men’s World Championship and EHF Men’s European Championship finals while they have never met in an Olympic Games.

In May 1995 in Akureyri, Iceland at the IHF Men’s World Championships, a tight preliminary round match saw Sweden just about hold own after their 15:9 half-time lead, winning 29:28.

During the main round at the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark, Belarus lost 33:22 to Sweden, with the legendary Belarus player Siarhei Rutenka scoring 13 goals and current squad player Andreas Nilsson top-scoring for Sweden with seven.

Rutenka, who announced his retirement from handball this month, will be missing for a Belarus side who did not confirm their eighth-finals attendance until their very last preliminary group match in a surprising victory over Hungary after losing their opening match against Chile. The victory ensured they finished third.

It is just the second time in history that Belarus will participate in the eighth-finals of a World Championship. The first test took place in 2013 and they lost to Croatia (33:24).

“It is much better for us to play Sweden than Denmark,” said Chevtsov. “With a little luck my young team can create a surprise, but we are, above all, here to learn and for now, I feel we are improving.”

Sweden finished second in their group behind Denmark, ending with the most goals scored (162 goals) in the preliminary round and second fewest conceded (111, behind Germany’s 107).

The Icelandic coach for Sweden, Kristjan Andresson, relies heavily on his 21-year-old left wing Jerry Tollbring – the IFK Kristianstad player has played just under four hours and 10 minutes – as well as top-scorer, the THW Kiel right wing Niclas Ekberg (32 goals in five matches).

Andresson will also be hoping that right wing Mattias Zachrisson has recovered from his fever which forced him out of Sweden’s final group game against Egypt.

Sweden are accustomed to this level of competition, even though we have not seen the Swedes in the knockout stages of a world championship since 2011 when they reached the semi-finals at home.

Before 2011, Sweden won the title four times and have reached the final stages numerous times, and with a young squad they hope to repeat previous years’ success.

“It’s a new game on Sunday,” said coach Andresson after the Egypt win. “This is where it really starts – it is a simple: win or lose.”

The two players to watch:

Artsem Karalek is the player most used by the Belarusian coach Yuri Shevtsov. 269 minutes played out of 300 possible and a status of top scorer of his team is quite unique for a pivot, with 30 goals and a 79% shooting success. All this and he is not even 21-years-old.

His Swedish counterpart Jerry Tollbring celebrated his 21st birthday four months ago, but he is also the player most used by Sweden. The left winger, fast in counter attack and formidable efficiency in small spaces, represents the future of this Swedish team.

Between two of the best young players of the competition, the duel promises to be tight. And exciting.

France 2017 ambassador and 2003 world champion Valérie Nicolas gives her throughs on the tie… 

“Sweden are clearly the favorites. They have a very young team, which is impressive with its speed. I enjoyed their match against Denmark very much. Sweden have a great style of play; they are very strong when moving from defence to attack, and very efficient with the ball – having scored 54 of their 162 goals in fastbreaks. They have a good pair of goalkeepers, and in general, are a homogeneous team. I don’t see them losing.”