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04.01.2016, 14:54
Iceland count on team spirit and hope for speedy recovery of the injured
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EHF EURO COUNTDOWN #6: Six years after their last podium finish, Iceland once again eye a European handball medal, but do not travel without any worries to the EHF EURO in Poland
 

Iceland count on team spirit and hope for speedy recovery of the injured

At Poland 2016 Iceland will be participating at its ninth EHF Euro in a row, with the bronze medal they won in 2010 in Austria their best result to date.

The team faces Croatia, Belarus and Norway in Group B which will be played in Katowice.  Even though Iceland might dream about a medal, the main goal is to qualify for one of the the 2016 Olympics Qualification Tournaments.

The team’s strength

Head coach Aron Kristjansson is known for being conservative in the choice of his squad. That is part of Iceland’s unique team spirit, where most of the players have been together at many tournaments over the years. They have stood together through thick and thin and know each other extremely well both on and off the court.

The Icelandic team is npt one of the tallest at the tournament, but it is far from being a literal David vs. Goliath battle every time they take to the court. The opponents know that the lack of height is covered by even quicker players who are always capable of leading one of Iceland’s deadliest weapons: the fast breaks. And that will not change.

The team’s weakness

Iceland’s biggest worry ahead of the tournament is that three starting players have been struggling with injuries. Right wing Arnor Gunnarsson hurt his shoulder early in December, Alexander Petersson hasn’t been able to play at 100 per cent for weeks and Bjarki Gunnarsson is struggling with chronic back problems. Kristjansson and his staff will be crossing their fingers for their timely recovery.

Their absence would really hurt the team and the biggest question is perhaps who would replace Gunnarsson in the defence’s heart. There is no clear successor who could step up, which might affect the team’s preparation.

Iceland have been known for having to switch two players between defence and attack. If Gunnarsson will not be fully fit for the tournament, Kristjansson will have to decide if there is a chance worth trying new things.

The team’s star

Although Iceland is a team known for its good spirits as a unit, there are two stars that usually shine the brightest.

Although the captain Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson is turning 37 in August, the left wing has been in the form of his life in the last couple of months. He is known as the king of fast breaks, and playing a vital part at FC Barcelona, he is likely to be on the top of his form in Poland.

Aron Palmarsson has also kept up the good performances for his new side, MVM Veszprem. It does not matter if he is leading the attack or stopping fast breaks, he always delivers.

His co-operation with Sigurdsson on the left side of the court has also been a real eye-pleaser for the Icelandic supporters over the years.

The team’s hidden gem

The abovementioned injury worries could make room for an underdog to step up, especially if Gunnarsson does not recover in time. Tandri Konradsson and Gudmundur Helgason were both impressive during the Golden League tournament Iceland in November.

Although it is unlikely that both of them will be selected in the final squad, they are perhaps the best hidden gems in the Icelandic team.

Kondradsson, 25, is a tall left back who also is a strong defender and plays for Rioch in Sweden.

Helgason, 23, was voted the best defender of the Icelandic league last season and has quickly become one of the best playmakers in the league as well. He will be joining the French side Ces­son Renn­es at the end of this season.

They are both a really interesting choices for Iceland and could open up the possibility to make only one change between defence and attack. That is something Kristjansson has been wanting to do, and has to decide if this is a chance worth taking now.

Konradsson and Helgason are both in the group of 21 players currently on the coach’s mind, who will have to name the 16 he takes to Poland at the very latest on 14 January.

The outlook

Kristjansson has spoken openly about thinking already about the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Iceland have not earned their spot yet at one of the qualification tournaments and the fight for the remaining ones will be rough in Poland.

The other teams not qualified yet are sure to aim for the same goal as Iceland for whom everything below the fifth place would be disappointing.

But if Gunnarsson, Petersson and Gunnarsson do not overcome their injuries in time, Kristjansson face an even worse headache.

Should he count on some less experienced in Poland to lead the team to the Olympic qualification? Is the future more valuable than the present?


TEXT: Andri Yrkill Valsson / ts
 
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