The tournament in Croatia marks a big moment for one of Iceland’s biggest sports legends of all time: Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, playing for German champions Rhein-Neckar Löwen, will be back to where it all started for him in the Icelandic national team.
Sigurdsson’s first major tournament with Iceland was in Croatia 18 years ago at the EHF EURO 2000 – and now he is back as a captain. During that championship 18 years ago, Iceland lost all their group matches. In fact, their only win was against Ukraine to secure the 11th spot out of 12 teams in the tournament.
Playing Croatia, Serbia and Sweden in Split, Sigurdsson will be eager to leave Croatia this time with some happier memories.
Out of the 28 players to be considered for the EHF EURO, 13 are playing in the Icelandic league. The younger generation is eager for its chance on the big stage and it is likely that Sveinsson will give a handful of players their major tournament debut. It is his mission to build a younger team to take over when the older generation says farewell.
There has been relief that star player Aron Pálmarsson’s situation was sorted well in time for the competition. He is back in form for FC Barcelona Lassa after his switch from Telekom Veszprém and is always likely to catch the headlines.
Janus Dadi Smárason, the 22-year-old playing for Aalborg Håndbold, has become the leading centre back in the national team with Pálmarsson on his side in the left back position and Sigurdsson still in top form on the left wing.
On the right, Ómar Ingi Magnússon from Aarhus Håndbold and Rúnar Kárason from TSV Hannover-Burgdorf are likely to divide the right back position between them, while Arnór Gunnarsson from Bergischer HC owns the right wing.
Iceland could be lining up their youngest defence in a long time. The 21-year-old Arnar Freyr Arnarsson from IK Kristianstad and the 20-year-old Ýmir Örn Gíslason from Valur are the future pair in the heart of the defence.
It remains to be seen if they will get a chance to shine together in Croatia as it is hard to see Bjarki Már Gunnarsson, Iceland’s leading defender over the past few years, lose his place although he has returned to the Icelandic league before the season.
Geir Sveinsson is going to his second major tournament as Iceland’s national coach. He took over after the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland. He had previously been the coach of SC Magdeburg after a playing career that has been highly successful.
Sveinsson was Iceland’s captain from 1991 until his retirement in 1999. He played 340 international games and scored 502 goals. He played for BM Granollers and CMB Alzira Avidesa in Spain between 1989 and 1995 and for Montpellier Handball in France until 1997 before finishing his career at HC Wuppertal in Germany. He was voted Iceland’s Sportsperson of the Year in 1997.
A strong defender in his active years, Sveinsson is known for his focus on playing with a well organized defence as a coach.
Eight years since the last medal for Iceland is a long time and their expectations are not going through the roof before the tournament in Croatia.
Iceland finished 13th at the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland and 14th at the World Championship 2017 in France. A significant improvement will be the aim, with securing a place in the main round as the target.
Iceland may not expect to be fighting for medals, but they rather expect that younger players will have a bigger role to play in Croatia. The experience they gain from playing alongside legends like Gudjón Valur Sigurdsson will make them more capable of fighting for medals at major tournaments in the coming years.
The 19 players selected by Iceland for the Men’s EHF EURO 2018
Goalkeepers: Björgvin Páll Gústavsson (Haukar), Ágúst Elí Björgvinsson (FH)
Left wings: Bjarki Már Elísson (Füchse Berlin), Guðjón Valur Sigurðsson (Rhein-Neckar Löwen)
Left backs: Aron Pálmarsson (FC Barcelona Lassa), Ólafur Guðmundsson (IFK Kristianstad), Daníel Þór Ingason (Haukar)
Centre backs: Arnór Atlason (Aalborg Håndbold), Elvar Örn Jónsson (Selfoss), Janus Daði Smárason (Aalborg Håndbold)
Right backs: Ásgeir Örn Hallgrímsson (Nimes), Ómar Ingi Magnússon (Aarhus Håndbold), Rúnar Kárason (TSV Hannover-Burgdorf)
Right wings: Arnór Þór Gunnarsson (Die Bergische Handball Club), Óðinn Þór Ríkharðsson (FH)
Line players: Arnar Freyr Arnarsson (IFK Kristianstad), Bjarki Már Gunnarsson (Stjarnan), Kári Kristján Kristjánsson (ÍBV), Ýmir Örn Gíslason (Valur)