Elisson: “I love to score, this is my job”
With the EHF EURO 2022 in the books, the EHF European League returns to the spotlight. A player at the forefront of both competitions is Bjarki Mar Elisson. With Iceland, he became something of a peoples’ champion in January and in the European League, the 2018 EHF Cup winner (with his former club Füchse Berlin) is the top scorer for TBV Lemgo.
On Tuesday night, Elisson and his teammates want to take revenge on Benfica after their opening defeat against the Portuguese side at home and the 31-year-old left wing is confident of climbing the ladder in group A to build the base of a perfect farewell to Lemgo at the EHF finals in May.
In this interview, Elisson reflects on the EHF EURO and looks ahead on the upcoming crucial duels in the European League against Benfica, Nantes, Cocks and GOG.
eurohandball.com: Iceland finished the EHF EURO sixth-ranked and unluckily missed the semi-finals - how huge was your disappointment not playing for the medals contrasted with the joy of a great tournament?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: Of course, I was really disappointed. We were so close to the semi-finals and we managed to cope with all circumstances like those many Covid cases in a brilliant way. We really played well, but we gave the chance to have our fate in our own hands away, when we lost against Croatia. Then we had to rely on Denmark, but this was no wishing well. In general, we can be very satisfied with the way we played, except that one game.
Handball fans all over the globe praised Iceland for their performances.
Bjarki Mar Elisson: This really made us happy. We always play with emotions. We are proud Icelanders, we are proud to play for this team and for our nation - maybe this was the reason, why the fans like us that much. The semi-finals were in reach, but we failed, this is the story.
Was it hard for you to switch from EHF EURO with Iceland back to club level with Lemgo?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: The first week after the tournament, I was ill, and of course a tournament like this is always a tough job, emotionally and physically, with so many matches and so many emotions in a short term. But I have to say that I am used to it now, it was my sixth major tournament in a row, and I know how to switch.
Your Swedish Lemgo teammates Peter Johannesson and Jonathan Carlsbogard won gold at the EHF EURO, Gedeon Guardiola silver with Spain. How huge were the congratulations, when the TBV squad re-united?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: Of course, very huge. Gedeon unfortunately is ruled-out by Covid, and I do not know, whether he likes congrats for silver, as he won gold twice. Sweden won the final deservedly, but they had been the surprise pack of the EHF EURO. We congratulated all our team members, who played at the EHF EURO, regardless of the team they played with.
On Tuesday, the European League re-starts for Lemgo with the away match at Lisbon - after a long international absence, TBV started quite well. Are you satisfied with the performances so far?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: I am satisfied, except for our group phase opener, which we really unluckily lost against Benfica, where we had the chance to win. In the remaining matches, we really played well. But we cannot balance our performances, as we still have four crucial matches ahead and we have not won anything by now. We have qualified for the knockout stages, but we will fight for a better position in the ranking of course. Currently, we are fourth, but we want to win this even group. We want to climb in the ranking - and we have four finals ahead.
So the first goal is to take revenge on Benfica?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: Of course. Like in the first game, I expect a close and tough match, but we hope to bring both points from Portugal and to win the direct encounter. Benfica have a strong team, with high quality on all positions, but we proved in the last one or two years that we can stand the heat in away matches, like when we won at Nantes. In the end, we can beat any opponent in the Bundesliga and European League, if we defend at the highest level.
What is your prediction for your incredibly even group?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: I guess, this is the hardest and the closest of all four groups, when you just look upon the teams ranked first to fourth, separated by only one point. Any of those four teams, GOG, Nantes, Benfica and Lemgo, can finish on top. Every point counts in the remaining matches. TBV Lemgo is currently having a great adventure, and we hope this adventure will lead us to the EHF Finals. Definitely, all of us currently enjoy this adventure.
You have won the EHF Cup, the forerunner of the European League, already with Füchse Berlin in 2018. So you know how it feels to be on top of the podium. Will you make it again to the EHF Finals?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: I played four years at Berlin, and every year we were part of the EHF Cup. This competition has become really strong and every year at least two German teams made it to the final tournaments. It proves the strength of Bundesliga. And of course, I want to make it to the EHF Finals again.
Is it a special motivation for you, as you say farewell to Lemgo after this season?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: This is an extra huge motivation. We saw last season, when we made it to the final tournament of the German Cup as underdogs, that anything can happen. We beat Kiel in the semi, we beat Melsungen in the final. To leave Lemgo by winning this trophy would be incredible.
You are Lemgo’s top scorer in the European League, you were Lemgo’s best scorer in the last Bundesliga season, you are always among the top of all scorer lists - is it typical for wings?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: At Lemgo, our style of play focusses much on the wings and on counter-attacks. Besides, I am taking the penalties and these tactics fit perfectly for me. I love to score, this is my job.
Your club coach Florian Kehrmann was a wing player like you are - does this fact reflect on the tactics?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: Flo and I exchange a lot, and Flo has won almost every trophy you can win in handball. And to be honest: he is one of the best coaches I ever had in my life. So our club is extremely happy to have him as a coach.
Will the top scorer list, in the end, be topped by two Icelanders, you and Omar Ingi Magnusson from SC Magdeburg?
Bjarki Mar Elisson: I have not even checked the top scorer list so far, and I did not play two group matches. So we will see, how far both us will come, but I am sure that Magdeburg and Berlin are definitely candidates for the final tournament. And if we finish first, we would avoid duels against one of them before the EHF finals.