One to watch: Faroe Islands star Ellefsen á Skipagøtu
Among the hustle and bustle of the Partille Cup, handball largest youth handball extravaganza, the European Open for under-17s grabs the attention of many, both in Gothenburg and around the world.
The underage international competition shines a spotlight on the next generation of star players and 2019 was no different as Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu was unleashed.
Interested viewers enjoyed the novelty of Faroe Islands' bright start to the competition, but that novel joy soon turned into genuine admiration as the tiny North Atlantic archipelago racked up victories against the likes of Spain, Norway and Hungary, before winning the final against home nation Sweden 36:29 in front of over 6,000 spectators at the Scandinavium.
Ellefsen a Skipagøtu was the star in the final with 11 goals and the star throughout the week as he picked up the MVP award.
“It was very cool playing against so many supporters in the final. H71 were at the Partille Cup, so we had 400 of them as supporters making almost more noise than the Swedes,” he says.
“I was a bit nervous before the final, but my dad was there as the goalkeeper trainer and we talked a lot about keeping focused.”
Summer move to Sweden
How fitting is it, having caught everyone’s eye in Gothenburg, that he is back in town as a summer signing for IK Sävehof.
“Sävehof reached out to me after the European Open, I came to visit and liked everything very much and I knew that Michael Apelgren was a very good coach.
“I like it here, the arena is great and school starts in a week, so I am settling in well. Firstly, I want to get fully fit, start playing and then I will be focussing on developing a lot as a player here with Michael as the trainer.
“We have an exciting team here at Sävehof, a very young and ambitious group and a great place to be.”
Sävehof’s youthful team means that he is likely to be involved early on and get his first taste of senior handball abroad, having just moved from his home club H71.
With Michael Apelgren joining from Elverum, the club is certain to compete for the European places again this season.
Countless hours in the hall
Handball in the Faroe Islands has been gaining attention in recent years with improved results and the production of players such as Johan Hansen, who won the World Championship last year with Denmark.
There is a tradition for the sport on the islands and Elias’ family is firmly rooted in that. His father played handball for H71 and his mother works with the national federation, while both his brothers play, meaning handball was always a part of his life growing up.
“I played football and table tennis as well as handball, but at 14 focused on handball.
“We have very good coaches in the Faroe Islands, but what helped me develop a lot at H71 was we had an open hall almost all the time.
“My friends and I would take the goalkeeper with us and just shoot for two hours and we had our fights with the guy running the hall, being in there when we were not supposed to be.”
Besides having a great eye for the game as a playmaker, Ellefsen á Skipagøtu has a wicked shot – and not just with his right hand.
The 18-year-old can play and shoot with both hands, making him a nightmare to play against, but he is not the first from the Faroe Islands to possess such a threat.
“When Peter Krogh came from Denmark to H71, we saw that he could play with both hands and there were a lot of us who thought that was very cool and we trained with our bad hand.
“It is weird to me that there are not more players who try to do it, I think it is a natural development in the game and I feel almost as good with my left as I do with my right now.
Full focus on the under-18s
The Faroe Islands’ success at under-17 level last year may read like a true underdog story, but this group of players knew they were capable of beating the more established nations at the European Open
“Five of us had been with the under-18 team in Georgia the year before and a lot of us had spent that year in Denmark, I was in Skanderborg, so we thought that we could beat Norway and Spain and it just kept going from there.”
If not for the global health crisis, they would have been playing at the Men’s 18 EHF Championship in Bulgaria this summer, but Ellefsen á Skipagøtu still has his sights set on winning the rescheduled competition – and that is just the first step.
“With under-18s, we want to win the EHF Championship in January, get up to the EHF EURO and eventually qualify for the World Championship.
“We have an aim in the Faroe Islands to reach the Men’s EHF EURO in 2024 and I think that is reachable. I think a lot of our age group have the ambition and talent to get to the senior team, but they also have a lot of good players, so we all have to train hard and work together.
“I do not think playing with the senior team is too far away, but my focus now is on the under-18 team with my pals, that is the most important thing.”