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28.11.2013, 17:36
EHF EURO 2014 a long and winding road for Norway
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ANALYSIS: Two former internationals for the Scandinavian nation, Gunnar Atle Pettersen and Christian Berge, have an in-depth look at the team they once played for
 

EHF EURO 2014 a long and winding road for Norway

The road to success for Norway at EHF EURO 2014 might become a thorny path.

Having to face Spain, Hungary and Iceland in their preliminary group and - should they advance to the main round - looking at playing the best three teams from Group A to which hosts, Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic and FYR Macedonia have been drawn, is definitely not an easy menu to digest.

However, the team led by Swedish coach Robert Hedin received a boost to their self-confidence at the beginning of November, when Norway hosted the Golden League.

Narrow defeats to France and Croatia and a six-goal win against Denmark - the first victory against their southern neighbours in nearly six years - is the source for a lot of optimism in the Norwegian team.

However, it takes more to make 'Handball Norway' really believe in their team ahead of the EHF European Championship.

This holds true at least, if you ask Robert Hedin's predecessor as Norwegian national coach: Gunnar Atle Pettersen, who was in charge of Norway's national team from 1989 to 1994 and again from 2001 to 2008.

"That win (against Denmark) meant a lot for the players' self-confidence. The result showed that when this team is at its best, it possesses huge potential," says Pettersen, a 132-time international himself.

"However, it was still only a test match, and the real challenge is to achieve similar success in important matches. Therefore, the Norwegian people is still awaiting what the team can do, when the going gets tough."

The best must be at their best

Another former international and current coach, Christian Berge who is now in charge of Norwegian champions Elverum HH, also sees a lot of potential in the Norwegian team - but he also sees the risk in the fact that there are many young and internationally inexperienced players in the squad.

"Of course, Norway are in an extremely tough group, but on their best days they can win all matches – but also lose them all on bad days.

"There is no doubt, though, that Norway have a team which can become really great in future, but this time, it may go both ways," Berge, who played 63 internationals, tells ehf-euro.com.

Despite the potential in the many young players in the team, there is no doubt that the experienced players will have to hit their best form and lead the way, if Norway are to be successful in the Danish arenas in January.

In goal, Ole Erevik (pictured above) has proved to be a reliable first-choice keeper after taking over from Steinar Ege.

Having warmed the bench for Ege for so many years has obviously made Erevik hungry to prove himself, and further more will he be on home court  in the preliminary matches which are played in the Gigantium Arena of Aalborg, the venue of Erevik's club, Aalborg Handball.

That arena is also the daily working place for another key player, Havard Tvedten. The 35-year-old left winger's performances this season – especially in the VELUX EHF Champions League for Aalborg – indicate that he seems to become even better the older he gets.

Another Norwegian who should feel at home at the Gigantium is Kristian Kjelling who won two Danish championships with Aalborg before moving on to Bjerringbro-Silkeborg ahead of this season.

Many Norwegian handball fans are putting a lot of faith in Kjelling's return to the national team and hope that he is completely fit following the elbow injury which sidelined him for most of the autumn.

Former national coach Gunnar Pettersen is aware of the 33-year-old left back's importance for the Norwegian team.

"A Kristian Kjelling in physical top form is a world class player, and I know that he is highly motivated ahead of this championship.

"He does not need much space, he shoots very well and is good at making Tvedten on the left wing and Myrhol on the line look good," Pettersen told ehf-euro.com.

As back-up for Kjelling, Norway still have a highly qualified left back in Espen Lie Hansen who has done well for Dunkerque in the VELUX EHF Champions League this autumn, although his efforts have not been enough to give the French side any points yet.

However, as Gunnar Pettersen also points out, the opposite back position also has to work.

In that spot Norway can rely on Christoffer Rambo, who only recently moved to GWD Minden in Germany to receive more playing time.

In addtion to Rambo, head coach Hedin can count on the prowess of 22-year-old Kent Robin Tonnesen from HSG Wetzlar.

In the playmaker position, Hedin has several options: Experienced Borge Lund (pictured above) is still going strong, after he returned home to Norwegian handball and Bodø HK after having concluded his Bundesliga career in Germany last season.

An alternative is the player with the very 'un-Norwegian' name Christian O'Sullivan – and when talking about the playmaker position, we simply have to mention the maybe most significant rising star in Norwegian handball right now: Sander Sagosen.

The 18-year-old centre back from Haslum HK made an extremely promising debut in the Golden League in Oslo recently, and Robert Hedin is in no doubt about his potential.

"He cannot only become Norway's best handball player – he can become the best handball player in the world!" the national coach said.

Norway also appear well equipped in the line player position. Obviously, Bjarte Myrhol from Rhein-Neckar Löwen is still the star in that position, but his stand-in Magnus Gullerud has done so well after having left Elverum for Danish Sonderjyske that his performances have already caught the eye of several Bundesliga clubs.

A good start is crucial

However, no matter how much potential the Norwegian team possesses, the way they start the championship will be deciding, the experts agree.

"The self confidence of the many young players can easily be damaged by a poor start," says Christian Berge and Gunnar Pettersen expresses the same view.

"They will need a good start to get the feeling that they are really good. Furthermore, the defence must really function and give our two fine goalkeepers better working conditions, than they have often been used to in the past," Gunnar Pettersen says.


TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts
 
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