12 January 2017
The north-east French city of Metz is set for a real clash of recent men’s handball heavyweights when 2013 IHF Men’s World Championship winners Spain take on 2008 Olympic Games silver medallists Iceland at the Arènes de Metz on Thursday 12 January.
In a sold-out, 5,000 capacity arena, the match-up will be the third of the day as the city in the Lorraine region of France welcomes the 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship to town.
Following on from the earlier Slovenia vs Angola and FYRO Macedonia vs Tunisia clashes, the game will be a chance for the teams to put their stamp on Group B and help towards qualification through to the eighth-finals.
Palmarsson back home
On the eve of their campaign Iceland suffered a devastating blow as their talisman and global handball superstar, Aron Palmarsson, returned home due to an ongoing hip injury.
Iceland named just 15 players out of a potential 16 following the technical meeting on Tuesday, mainly to keep a place open for veteran pivot Vignir Svavarsson, who is recovering from illness and is not in Metz currently. The Icelandic team will hope to include him in their France 2017 squad later should he recover as expected.
With these two experienced players out, other players have the opportunity to step up so Rhein-Neckar Lowen’s Gudjon Sigurdsson alongside French-based right-back Asgeir Hallgrimsson and left-back Arnor Atlason, backed up by goalkeepers Bjorgvin Gsstavsson and Gretar Gudmundsson will be wanting to pull their team through the tough meeting.
Despite their troubles, the Icelanders know that they can rely on strong support from home – over 200 Icelanders have bought tickets for each of their five group games.
Spain ahead in meetings
In their last 10 outings against each other, Spain have lost three times – most notably in the 2008 Olympic Games semi-final. But Spain have won their past four matches, three of which were in important tournaments – the 2011 IHF Men’s World Handball Championship in Sweden, EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia and EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.
Entrerrios not in 16-man squad; Ribera using Rio 2016 experience to motivate
New Spain coach Jordi Ribera, fresh from guiding the Brazilian men’s team to the quarter-finals of Rio 2016, took over from Manuel Cadenas last summer and has already had success in his first two qualifying games for EHF EURO 2018 – a 30:21 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina at home and a 36:21 victory in Finland.
But Ribera faces his own injury woes as captain Raul Entrerrios, continues to recover from an adductor (thigh) injury, which prevented him from taking part in Spain’s last two warm-up matches, against Argentina and Qatar and has not been named in the initial 16-man squad, although the influential player is named as the 17th squad player and will come into the team should he recover.
“We have decided that at the moment we are going to wait until he can train normally and he can have a better feeling,” said Ribera.
One name Ribera can count on is a famous one – Dujshebaev – in this case, Alex.
Alex Dujshebaev is the son of handball legend, Talant Dujshebaev, who was twice voted IHF World Handball Player of the Year. Winning numerous accolades in Spain and further afield right-back Alex will have to perform at his very best for Spain to be in with a chance to win some silverware.
“It’s a very important championship,” said the young Dujshebaev. “It is the start of a new period for Spain; a new Olympic cycle so we have to play well, especially after our defeats before Rio 2016.”
Goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas Moreno, speaking after Spain’s first training session in Metz, was quick to stress that the first game of any tournament is a very big test.
“It’s always difficult to start a competition no matter who our rival is,” said the FC Barcelona player. “For the Iceland match we expect a really tough game against a really good team – apparently, Aron Palmarsson is not going to play which means a very important player is missing for them, so we will try to take advantage of this.”