'The Genius' and 'The Heart': How Hampus Wanne and Jim Gottfridsson are leading Swedish handball to new heights

The Sweden men's national handball team is still on a high after their Euro 2022 triumph and there's a lot more to come with Gottfridsson, Wanne, Andreas Palicka, Lucas Pellas and others leading the way.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Jim Gottfridsson, and Hampus Wanne are leading a next-gen Sweden handball team to brand new glory days.

Having played together for nine seasons at Flensburg-Handewitt, this double-act might be split up at club level with Wanne on his way to Barcelona, but it's still exciting times for Sweden where's continue to chase history.

The Swedish white-knuckle ride to EHF Euro 2022 triumph was powered by their big stars like 'Gotte' and Wanne along with championship-winning goalscorer Niclas Ekberg, defender Oscar Bergendahl, and goalkeeper Andreas Palicka.

It's an All-Star cast in a squad bursting with young talent too, like 19-year-old Felix Moller and 21-year-olds Isak Persson, Eric Johansson, and Valter Chrintz out to shake up the established order.

Sweden have the kind of balance between youth and experience that few teams can boast, and hopes of a new golden age are on the rise.

Gottfridsson and Wanne were outstanding at the Egypt 2021 Worlds and Euro 2022, and while fifth at the Tokyo Olympics between those two impressive tournaments was a little disappointing, Sweden are looking good for a shot - something they've never achieved before - at Paris 2024.

Swedish handball has a proud history but there's one thing they've never managed to win: Olympic gold.

Four-time Olympic silver medallists, four-time world champions, and now five-time kings of Europe, Sweden look ready to bring back an era of success unseen since the days of the 'Bengan Boys' led by Magnus Wislander.

Their Euro 2022 victory was Sweden's first major title in 20 years and now they look to have a generation capable of bringing new joy to the yellow-and-blue hordes.

The greatest Swedish handball players of all time

Gottfridsson, Wanne, Ekberg, Palicka and co. have a lot to live up to.

Widely considered not just the greatest Swedish team of all time, but one of the greatest in handball history, the 'Bengan Boys' were a sight to behold.

Wislander is still the most-capped player (386) and still the highest goalscorer (1191) in national team history - they used to call him 'The Hose' for the way he slipped between defensive lines.

He and the likes of Tomas Svensson, Staffan Olson, Ola Lindgren, and Stefan Lovgren reached three straight Olympic finals from Barcelona '92 to Sydney 2000, also claiming medals at six World Championships and five European Championships.

The nickname 'Bengan Boys' came thanks to coach Bengt Johansson who led the side during that outrageously successful period, from 1988–2004: they reinvented what a handball team could do together.

That team had some legendary tussles with the Soviet Union, but in modern times the rise of a French side led by Nikola Karabatic and later a 'Danish Dynasty' powered by Mikkel Hansen has left Sweden in the shade.

Until now.

Sweden's new handball generation

Now Sweden has a squad that can rival both the legends of the past and their opponents of the present.

While Karabatic led France to their third Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021 over Hansen's Danes, Sweden got the better of the Olympic champs in the Euro 2022 semi-final.

Nine goals from Jim Gottfridsson gave the Swedes a memorable victory and set them up for the final against defending champs Spain who had taken down Hansen and the mighty Danes.

Ekberg and Bergendahl were the heroes of the final with five goals each, Ekberg scoring a dramatic 7m winner on the buzzer to secure the title.

But throughout the tournament left winger Hampus Wanne was simply superb - Sweden's top goalscorer with 45 goals, he shot 80 percent and provided the cutting edge time and time again from the wing.

'Gotte' showed why he's the soul of the side too, constantly driving his team on with his spirited performances and never letting the intensity drop.

All of the things he brings to the side, in both solid numbers and intangibles, saw him pick up the tournament MVP award.

Gottfridsson and Wanne bring glory days back to Sweden

And Euro 2022 was far from a flash in the pan for Sweden.

Rewind a year earlier and the yellow-and-blues stunned the world at the Egypt 2021 Worlds, downing the heavily fancied French in the semi-finals, and pushing Denmark all the way in the final.

Gottfridsson was a joy to watch once more, the pure passion he has for the game captivating as he inspired younger teammates like Lucas Pellas - 25 at the time.

Palicka, Gottfridsson and Wanne all made the World All-Star team, with Sweden the only nation to have three players selected.

Hampus Wanne was, again, the Swedes' leading goal-getter finding the net 53 times to finish as the third top scorer in the tournament behind Frankis Marzo (58) and Sander Sagosen (54).

Hampus Wanne to Barcelona

When you look at Gotte and Wanne's club careers, it's simple to see that both are born leaders in their own way, true to where they come from.

Gottfridsson is a fighter from the small town of Ystad in the south of Sweden, while Wanne is the sophisticate from Gothenburg, the genius with a wand of a shooting hand.

This Swedish duo know each other inside-out having played together at German club side Flensburg-Handewitt since 2013, winning the EHF Champions League together in 2014, also helping the team to win arguably the toughest league in handball twice.

Gotte, 29, was voted Bundesliga MVP in 2020/21 and looks like he's staying put as a firm fan favourite while Wanne (28), is set for a high-profile move to European giants Barcelona.

With both in the prime of their careers and Paris 2024 just two short years away, Gotte and Wanne have Swedish handball dreaming of new heights and an Olympic gold medal that escaped even the greatest team of all time.

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