Sweden celebrates the end of its title curse – and Kiel’s winning goal scorer Niclas Ekberg. The story of the Corona returnee fits a crazy EM.
After their gold coup in Budapest, Europe’s new handball kings let their tears run free. “When I was a kid, I never dreamed of winning a gold medal with Sweden,” said goalkeeper Andreas Palicka in a halting voice. The spectacular European Championship triumph and the end of the 20-year title curse had even emotionally knocked out Sweden’s outstanding team oldie.
“I broke down completely and I’ve probably never cried so many tears before,” said Palicka, before he started his journey home from this crazy European Championship on Monday morning after a long night of partying.
The fifth European Championship title for the Swedes, who were hit by seven corona cases, and above all the achievement of the dramatic final success against Spain (27:26) symbolized the two and a half weeks of this tournament, which was overshadowed by the virus and over 100 positive findings.
Ekberg is happy about the “dreamful end”
On the one hand there was the story of 35-year-old Palickas, who tested positive after the main round game against Germany, then dropped out, reported back with two world-class performances on the final weekend – and now does not rule out the end of his career in the national jersey. Above all, there was the fairytale comeback of Niclas Ekberg, who decided the final with his last-second penalty.
The right winger from Kiel had to be quarantined twice during the tournament after positive tests. Ekberg, top scorer in the first half of the Bundesliga season, missed three of his team’s four main round games and the semifinals – before appearing as a celebrated hero in the final. “A dreamy ending,” said Ekberg. After days of isolation, which he described as “pure hell” and “mental warfare”, he was “just incredibly happy and proud that I was able to help this team”.
Ekberg, also known at THW as an ice-cold shooter, reported that he wasn’t nervous about the seconds before his substitution. “Now I’m taking EM gold home for us,” he whispered to coach Glenn Solberg: “Then he kissed me on the cheek, I went in and did it.”
Sweden stars have to get back to everyday handball quickly
With their first victory in the third major final since 2018, Palicka and Co. finally stepped out of the long shadow of the “Bengan Boys”. The team celebrated as the “Golden Generation” around the world handball player of the century Magnus Wislander and successful coach Bengt Johansson, who won the last title for the Scandinavians in a major tournament at the 2002 European Championship.
“I’m so damn happy to win this gold. You have no idea how long I’ve been dreaming about it,” said playmaker Jim Gottfridsson from SG Flensburg-Handewitt, who was rightly named the tournament’s most valuable player on Sunday. The Bengan boys were his great inspiration as a child. Now the 29-year-old can shape an epoch himself.
However, the EM heroes don’t have much time to enjoy their triumph. Like a number of other Swedish players, Ekberg and Kiel are already challenged again at the weekend in the quarter-finals of the DHB Cup, and Gottfridsson and his Flensburg team will start again in the league next week.