Can Palmarsson and Magnusson push Iceland to the limit?
This is the 10th article in a series of 24, presenting all participants at the Men's EHF EURO 2022 in Hungary and Slovakia.
Having been drawn into one of the toughest groups of the preliminary round, facing Portugal, hosts Hungary and the Netherlands in Budapest, Iceland will be under pressure from the first match. After missing the Olympic Games in Tokyo and finishing 20th at the 2021 World Championship, the EHF EURO 2010 bronze medallists are certain to be tested.
Additionally, there is a question mark surrounding their mastermind Aron Palmarsson, who was injured several times in the last month.
In the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers, Iceland finished second in their group below Portugal. Their final preparation matches will be on 7 and 9 January against Lithuania.
Three questions ahead of the Men’s EHF EURO 2022:
How fit is Aron Palmarsson?
Since his transfer to Aalborg Håndbold in the summer of 2021, Aron Palmarsson has suffered several injuries and could only play some Champions League matches. But the three-time Champions League winner (with THW Kiel and Barcelona) had his comeback on a club level right before the winter break in the Danish league.
The question will then be whether the mastermind of Iceland’s attack will be at 100 percent before the start of the EHF EURO. No question, Palmarsson is the team’s most important player in attack.
In January 2021, the centre back missed the World Championship in Egypt, and Iceland finished 20th — the worst in their history of participations in the competition. This underlines the importance of Palmarsson.
Who will be the number one between the posts?
Will coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson count on experience or youth? One on hand, there is 21-year-old Viktor Hallgrimsson, who has been playing an extremely strong club season with Danish European League participants GOG.
On the other hand is the most experienced player in the squad by far, Björgvin Pall Gustavsson, who is the only one in the 20-strong squad playing in Iceland. With 236 international matches so far, already being a cornerstone in the 2008 Olympic silver medal and the EHF EURO 2010 bronze medal wins, Gustavsson is still fit — and it looks like veteran is beating young talent at the moment.
What about the rising stars?
Unfortunately for Iceland, one of their top young talents will miss the EHF EURO 2022 due to injury: Kielce’s playmaker Haukur Thrastarsson did not recover early enough from his torn cruciate ligament. “Unfortunately he cannot join us, but we are still in contact with him,” said coach Gudmundsson.
Another rising star has returned after almost a year out with shoulder injuries: Gisli Kristjansson, who had his comeback on a club level with EHF European League winners SC Magdeburg in the autumn.
Under the spotlight: Omar Ingi Magnusson
In particularly outstanding form is right back Ómar Ingi Magnusson, who was top scorer in the Bundesliga, and winner of the EHF European League and IHF Super Globe with SC Magdeburg — all in 2021. But Magnusson has not had such an impact in the national team so far, as he was ruled out by injuries in 2020 and 2021, playing only four matches at the World Championship. So the right back is now eager to prove his importance and scoring abilities.
Facing a tough group including their regular opponents Portugal, who defeated Iceland in the EHF EURO 2022 qualification and at the 2021 World Championship; ambitious hosts Hungary; and the upcoming Netherlands side, the first and only goal is making it to the main round, which is expected to be anything but easy. The tournament opener against Portugal, whom Iceland beat in the EHF EURO 2020 main round, is crucial for reaching the goal.
Gudmundur Gudmundsson officially nominated only one right wing for the EHF EURO 2022: Sigvaldi Bjørn Gudjonsson from Kielce. But left-handed right backs such as Teitur Örn Einarsson and Viggo Kristjansson — both experienced players from the German Bundesliga — are expected to help out in this position.
What the numbers say
There are rare records in the world of handball held by Icelanders, but one shines above them all: Former left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson played 11 EHF EURO tournaments in a row from 2000 to 2020, and the current coach of German club VfL Gummersbach is all-time top scorer of Men’s EHF EURO events with 288 goals.
But this record could be broken in 2022, as Nikola Karabatic is only 24 goals shy — currently on 264 in the record number of 63 matches. In contrast to Sigurdsson, Karabatic is still on court.