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26.09.2013, 16:43
"I don't count goals per se"
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INTERVIEW: Part 5 of our 'Where are they now?'-series looks at the career of Olafur Stefansson, the Icelandic right back who became top scorer at the EHF EURO 2002 in Sweden
 

"I don't count goals per se"

The countdown clock to the 2014 EHF European Championship continues to tick down - as of October 2013 there will be a mere 100 days to go.

While the participating teams and its star players start getting in shape for the final tournament, we use the opportunity to look back at the stars from yesterday.

The players that stood and occasionally still stand for success at the previous EHF EURO events.

Part 5 of this 'Where are they now?'-series looks at Icelandic right back Olafur Stefansson who became top scorer with 58 goals at the EHF EURO 2002 in Sweden.

Ólafur Stefánsson finished his illustrious career with the Icelandic national team in the appropriate manner in June, scoring eight goals and having at least as many assists in Iceland‘s European Championship qualifier victory against Romania. 

At the age of almost 40, he bade farewell to international handball as the player who scored more goals than anyone else for his national team.

Still, Stefánsson has always been regarded as the master playmaker, the champion of the final pass, rather than a goalscorer. 

His first thought has always been to find the open man, reverting to the shot if he doesn‘t see him.  Maybe that is why he has only been top scorer at one major tournament, the EHF EURO in Sweden in 2002.

Stefánsson quit playing in spring this year and has now taken up coaching the team with which he grew up playing handball, Reykjavik-based club Valur. 

There eurohandball.com met with him just a few days after the team won the first league match of the season.

eurohandball.com:  What memories do you have of the EHF EURO 2002 in Sweden?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  Quite fond ones. It was the first tournament in quite a few years where we played well and got some results. We went on a good run and got all the way to the semi-final, but simply ran out of steam in the final two matches (Iceland finished fourth in the end).

The batteries were quite empty. When I look back at it, I see a lot of things I would have made differently today, just things like nutrition and so on.  But the tournament was a big step forward for us towards later success.  And there we scored unbelievably many goals with fast breaks, even more than the Swedes.

eurohandball.com: What about your own part, becoming top scorer, did that mean anything to you?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  Well, it was the first and the last time that happened.  I have to say that it was some kind of a breakthrough and it was kind of fun getting a title after the tournament.

eurohandball.com: You have said before that your career can be divided in two, with your biggest successes coming in the second part. Was the EHF EURO 2002 maybe the beginning of that second part?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  Definitely. That was when I felt that I was a part of a team that could challenge for honours. Also at the same time I became German champion with Magdeburg and then we won the Champions League (also in 2002), so a lot of things were happening simultaneously.

eurohandball.com: What was the team spirit like in 2002?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  It was very good, but in the end we were totally drained. We had a really good first-half against Sweden in the semi-final, but then we just didn‘t have the energy to finish it (Iceland was only behind 12:14 at half-time before losing the match 22:33 in the end).

Then we had to play Denmark for the bronze the day after and we just weren‘t up for it and lost (22:29). But overall, the team spirit was excellent. It goes together with the results and when you go on a run like we did, playing good handball, the spirit becomes good.

eurohandball.com: What was it like, playing the semifinal against Sweden on their home court?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  I remember being quite cocky in interviews before the game which surprised the Icelandic press, because we hadn‘t had much success against them. 

But the first half showed that I was right, we played really well and gave them a run for it. 

But in the second half, they managed to pull away, mainly because of tactical changes which I and the team would have been able to answer today, but there we lacked the experience to do it. 

They had more routine and know-how at that point and that decided the game, rather than them having better players at the time. 

The main regret is that we weren‘t able to pick ourselves up before the bronze match against Denmark the day after. We went into that game still disappointed from the loss which probably made us feel how tired we were.

eurohandball.com: Did you think much about becoming top scorer?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  Not really. I don‘t count goals per se. I rather look at the result of matches than how many goals I score.  At the world championship in Portugal the next year I was one goal away from being top scorer, but didn‘t play against Qatar and Australia. 

So at least I wasn‘t thinking about it then. I just want to win matches, to shoot when I‘m supposed to shoot and score when I shoot. Also, I usually don‘t play well against the weakest teams. 

Even though I always respect the other team, I find it hard to motivate myself for those matches and think it‘s better to use them to get a rest in a long tournament.

eurohandball.com: Maybe you‘re not greedy enough?

Ólafur Stefánsson:  Yeah, maybe. Greed is a negative word, so I‘m glad if it‘s lacking. If I‘m greedy for anything it‘s feeling well and when you win matches, you feel well and the whole team is glad, so that‘s the main point, not who scored the most goals.


Where are they now? - Part 4: Jackson Richardson, MVP at the EHF EURO 2000

Where are they now? - Part 3: Daniel Stephan, MVP at the EHF EURO 1998

Where are they now - Part 2: Talant Dujshebaev, MVP at the EHF EURO 1996

Where are they now? - Part 1: Magnus Andersson, MVP at the EHF EURO 1994


TEXT: Adolf Ingi Erlingsson / ts
 
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