Handball fans did not need to wait for the first EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia surprise long. Iceland, led mainly by a combined effort of Bjorgvin Gustavsson with 14 saves (11 in the first half) and Olafur Gudmundsson (seven goals), beat Sweden 26:24 to clinch their first EHF EURO win over their Nordic rivals in the fifth encounter.
"It was easy at first but in the end we had to fight. We came on the court with a lot of energy and we scored many goals. In the second half it was tough to maintain the lead but we did it, also thanks to our goalkeeper who had a lot of saves," said Gudmundsson, who was awarded the best player of the game.
A 4:0 start of the game saw Iceland take off and never look back in their opener of the EHF EURO 2018 against Sweden. Geir Svensson’s side took advantage of the Swedish mistakes and earned an impressive win, which will surely help their chances to proceed to the next round.
The early signs for a surprise were there to be seen after only few seconds, as Sweden had serious trouble in attack. The favourites scored their first goal after four minutes and 13 seconds and by that time, Iceland were already 4:1 up, with no hint of stopping.
The necessity of a good defence was underlined both by coach Kristjan Andresson and the superb pair of goalkeepers of Andreas Palicka and Mikael Appelgren before the game, but the Swedish defence was nowhere to be seen during the first half of the game.
As Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson scored his 1,800th competitive goal for the Icelandic national team, Sweden were already six goals behind (8:2) and had little to offer in attack. Even two timeouts coach Kristjan Andersson took after only 13 minutes.
An efficient first part from Olafur Andres Gudmundsson, who plies his trade in the Swedish league for IFK Kristianstad, and his five goals saw Iceland opening a nine-goal gap, 14:5, after 19 minutes.
But it was goalkeeper Bjorgvin Pall Gustavsson who really helped Iceland build the 15:8 lead at half time, with 11 saves, that upped his save percentage to an astonishing 58% in the first half.
''We can say our first half was very very well played, it's because player really wanted to win. We knew that Sweden has a great team, but also that we have a possibility to win,'' Iceland coach Geir Sveinsson commented.
No comeback from Sweden
It was now the Swedish attack’s job to save the game and improve the grim 32% efficiency from the first half.
Yet it was not the case. After a short stint of 43 seconds after the second half threw off, with two goals scored by Jesper Nielsen and Albin Lagergren, Sweden got back to their shooting woes.
It went from bad to worse for them, as Gudmundsson, Iceland’s best scorer in the game with seven goals, was unstoppable and Iceland opened an unassailable ten-goal gap, 21:11, with 20 minutes to go, thanks to a 6:1 partial between the 31st and the 40th minute.
With a sharpened defence, highlighted by Mickael Appelgren’s seven important saves, Sweden built their own 7:1 partial between the 39th and the 47th minute, as the Icelandic lead shrank to four goals, 22:18.
But the comeback attempt was ultimately quashed by Iceland. Taking advantage of Sigurdsson and Palmarsson’s experience, Iceland took a surprising 26:24 win, taking them closer to a main round berth.
"We are disappointed. We wanted to make a better performance than we did. Our defence had a problem with the Icelandic attack, and their goalkeeper had a great day," said Sweden coach and former Icelandic international Kristjan Andresson.
Sweden now face a do-or-die match against Serbia on Sunday, while Iceland will encounter Croatia in a sold-out Spaladium Arena.