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19.07.2016, 14:13
The "new Olafur Stefansson" shines under the legend's guidance
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RISING STARS #3: Being compared to one of the sport’s greatest is a nice praise for Iceland’s Omar Ingi Magnusson. But the shoes to fill are huge, and the Men’s 20 EHF EURO will show whether the 19-year-old is up for it
 

The “new Olafur Stefansson” shines under the legend's guidance 

"The new Olafur Stefansson." It is not a bad statement that 19-year-old Icelander Omar Ingi Magnusson has heard quite often over the last year or so.

Being compared to one of the biggest stars in handball is something to be excited about, but the talented right back does not get full of himself, replying that he just wants to make a name for himself and not be compared to others.

And with another year of experience in the bag now, he is destined to make an impact at the Men's 20 EHF EURO later this month. With Olafur Stefansson as his coach! 

One year ago Magnusson was a vital part of the Icelandic team that showed a magnificent performance at the Youth World Championship in Russia. He was the top scorer with eight goals in the bronze match against Spain which Iceland won 26:22, and in the end he became the third best scorer of the tournament.

Following this, he entered the Icelandic league full of confidence with his team Valur and truly delivered. Even though he struggled with injuries and missed the play-offs, Magnusson was named most promising player at the end of the season with 81 goals in 16 matches.

Valur finished second and won the cup, with big teams abroad following closely every step Magnusson took since his performance in Russia. In the end it was the Danish side Århus Håndbold that signed him with a three-year contract, starting this summer.

Possesses everything needed for a top-class player

"Even though he is young, he is an extremely intelligent player. He has a good shooting technique and is also a good defender. Looking at today’s world-class players, it would benefit him to be a bit taller, but I'm sure he will make a good impact at the national level in the future," says Gudmundur Holmar Helgason, Magnusson's former teammate at Valur.

Some handball critiques in Iceland shared their skepticism about Magnusson's decision to take the next step right away. Others claimed the Danish league would not be a good place to start his professional career. Helgason is sure though that he is up for the task ahead: “He has everything needed to be a top-class player and will enter the national side soon in my opinion. But he has to play his cards rights and hopefully not struggle with injuries."

Plays best under pressure

When asked about his weaknesses, Helgason says that Magnusson sometimes takes on too much of an unnecessary responsibility. "He sometimes thinks he has to carry the team on his own shoulders and perhaps takes on too much responsibility. For example by taking too many shots or by not letting the ball flow as much as needed. I don't think however that will be the case in the upcoming tournament."

Although Magnusson is only 19 years old, he played some big games in his career: the semi-final and the bronze medal game with Iceland at the Youth World Championship 2015 and the cup final with Valur last season, to name just a few. 

"He is a true fighter and really thrives under pressure. It's in those situations where he plays the best. As a person he's a quiet guy but underneath lies a lot of humour," says Helgason.

Magnusson missed the play-offs last season with Valur because of injuries, but he returned to action last month for the preparation for the upcoming EHF EURO, and it is no secret that Iceland will be hungrier than ever for a successful campaign. They have been drawn to Group B alongside Spain, Slovenia and Russia.

"The team will probably look a lot to Magnusson in attack, but it's going to be vital for them to play a good defence and rely on fast breaks. That was the key in their bronze campaign at the World Championship last summer," says Helgason. “There are a lot of strong teams in the tournament. so it will be hard, but it's going to be exciting to see how the team will be under Olafur Stefansson's guidance."

Window into the national team is opening up

Magnusson's will start his new adventure with Århus Håndbold after the EHF EURO in Denmark, so he will not need to go far to catch up with his new teammates. There, he will be united with two other Icelanders; Sigvaldi Gudjonsson is already there and Robert Gunnarsson will join the team this summer, arriving from the French champions Paris Saint-Germain Handball. Having them around will surely be beneficial for a young player taking his first steps at the professional level. 

Like Helgason says, if Magnusson shakes off his injuries completely, he has everything needed to shine. He is surely on the national team's radar and is likely to benefit from having Oskar Bjarni Oskarsson as head coach’s Geir Sveinsson's assistant. Oskarsson is the head coach of Valur so he knows Magnusson in and out. 

With an uncertain future in the Icelandic national team for right back players like Alexander Petersson, the window of opportunity is opening up for the young Icelander. It is a competitive position but Sveinsson will surely be closely watching Magnusson's performance at the EHF EURO - where the "new Olafur Stefansson" is destined to make a name for himself.

Photos: HSI


Previous articles published in the “Rising stars”-series ahead of the Men’s 20 EHF EURO

#1: Denmark’s Sebastian Augustinussen: He reaches for the stars – but at moderate pace

#2 Germany's Franz Semper: For a great player. height does not matter


TEXT: Andri Yrkill Valsson / ts
 
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