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30.11.2015, 15:07
For Iceland everything depends on Palmarsson
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EHF EURO INSIGHTS: If the best players play at their best, Iceland can go a long way in Poland, but there is no room for a weak link
 

For Iceland everything depends on Palmarsson

“Our handball is like our country. All depends on the winds. Sometimes it’s rough for us, but sometimes the wind takes us all the way.”

Icelandic handball legend Olafur Stefansson uttered these words more than seven years ago, just some time before he and his teammates wrote history when they won silver for at Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Ever since Iceland has been a permanent guest among Europe’s top teams; the team even won bronze at the EHF EURO 2010 – but nevertheless they remained a fragile construction.

Head coach Aron Kristjansson has some world class players at his disposal, but his problem nowadays is that the key players are not any getting younger. With one exception to the rule: Iceland’s mastermind.

At just 25 years of age, Aron Palmarsson is back at the very top. The transfer from Kiel to Veszprem at the beginning of the season granted him the necessary time to recover from minor injuries, and his position on club and national team level is the one of a pure leader.

Palmarsson is a highly creative playmaker and a perfect shooter, too. In general, he is the one to put his teammates in the right position, if not he scores himself.

Iceland will depend on a healthy Aron Palmarsson come the EHF EURO 2016. Some top events in previous years have proven that without Palmarsson at its best, it is extremely hard for the rest of the team to find their usual level of performance.

Fighting like the Vikings did

Apart from Palmarsson it is the team spirit that keeps Iceland on a high note.

“Regardless of who is on the court, we fight for each other. Fighting is one of our main characteristics since the Viking times,” says left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, besides Palmarsson the second key for Iceland.

Despite his age of 35, he is in the form of his life. He is the runner; he is the one that scores the easy goals; he is the one that cleans up in defence. And he keeps going. His advantage: No major injury had stopped Sigurdsson in his long career so far.

If Palmarsson and Sigurdsson are out of form at the same time (what usually does not happen that often), the Icelandic chances to win are really limited.

At the Golden League at the beginning of November both played on top level, what resulted in wins against Norway (one of their preliminary round opponents at the EHF EURO) and defending EHF EURO champions France.

In the match against Denmark, they were beaten by their own weapons, as Denmark ruthlessly converted their counter attacks.

At the Golden League, Kristjansson had to replace another cornerstone of his attack and defence: left handed Alexander Petersson.

The Rhein-Neckar Löwen right back in previous years was injured more often than he was on the court as he was suffering from several severe shoulder injuries caused by his powerful style. But at the moment Petersson is back on track.

One more round for the old boys

A look at the squad that took to the court at the Golden League reveals that a slow transition with the Iceland team is obvious.

Step by step young players are supposed to fill the shoes of the ‘golden generation’ that won Olympic silver and EHF EURO bronze, but the clear wish of the ‘old boys’ is to play at least until  Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

However, the defeat in the Last 16 against Denmark at the World Championship 2015 showed that the EHF EURO 2016, at which Iceland face Croatia, Belarus and Norway in Katowice will be anything but a walk in the park.

And even if they advance to the main round, powerhouses such as France or hosts Poland want to make it to the semi-finals.

On the other hand, another fifth place like they achieved at the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark might already be enough for one of those two tickets available for the Olympic Qualification tournaments.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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