It was 20 years ago that Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson took his first steps on the EHF EURO court, making his debut at the 2000 edition in Croatia.
Since then, the Iceland left wing has become not only the all-time EHF EURO top scorer, with a tally of 270, but holds the record for the most goals scored in international handball. Sigurdsson’s staggering career total before he and Iceland begin their campaign in Malmö on Saturday stands at 1,857 goals from 357 matches.
Many individual and team successes have followed Sigurdsson’s debut two decades ago, but he remembers his first match at the EHF EURO well.
“The first two games I was sitting in the stands and then I came on for our left wing player, who had played the first two matches and 50 minutes. He was pretty tired, so the coach put me in with the simple task," says Sigurdsson, who took the court to face now assistant coach of Russia, Lev Voronin, on the opposing wing. "He said ‘he cannot make any fast break goals.'”
“I was 20 years old, I was really nervous, and I think I didn’t go down to my position. I was standing where the dotted line ends just watching my guy and concentrating on running back – not on getting the ball or making goals. So, it’s a fun memory, but I can still remember how nervous I was and how big it was for me back then playing against a team like Russia, and playing my first big tournament.”
An impressive EURO career – and not over yet
Russia went on to claim the silver medal at the EHF EURO 2000, losing by just one goal to Sweden in the final. However, Sigurdsson’s chance to play for the medals would come. At the next edition of the EURO, Iceland reached the semi-finals and ultimately played against Denmark for third, finishing fourth.
In 2010, Iceland had the chance again, and this time they overcame Poland in the bronze-medal match to win what remains the team’s sole piece of EURO silverware. Two years before, Sigurdsson and Iceland had celebrated their first Olympic medal – silver in Beijing.
Naturally, the semi-final campaigns stand out among Sigurdsson’s best EHF EURO memories, but the experience has been about more than only the positive moments – and he cannot possibly name one favourite EURO.
“My first one of course, the fourth place in 2002, the bronze medal in 2010 – are maybe the highlights. And then the recent ones when we got eliminated after the group. There are many, many things. But that’s something I will look back on later, when I finally decide to quit,” says Sigurdsson.
Speaking of that, it hardly looks as though the left wing is ready to hang up his handball shoes just yet. Any chance he will be entertaining fans with his spectacular goals at another EHF EURO?
“I’m taking one game at a time, if we take the clichés. But I have no idea. It’s not likely that I will be here at 42 years old, but we wait and see… you never know!” laughs Sigurdsson.
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Guðjón Valur Sigurðsson, vinsta horn Guðjón Valur er fertugur vinstri hornamaður franska meistaraliðsins Paris Saint-Germain. Hann er einn reyndasti handknattleiksmaður heims um þessar mundir auk þess að vera markahæsti landsliðsmaður sögunnar með 1.853 mörk í 356 landsleikjum. Guðjón Valur er einnig markahæsti leikmaður frá upphafi í sögu Evrópumótanna í handknattleik. Alls hefur hann skorað 270 mörk í 54 viðureignum í lokakeppni EM. Hann er í þriðja sæti á lista yfir markahæstu leikmenn heimsmeistaramótanna og er eini Íslendingurinn sem hefur orðið markakóngur HM. Þeim áfanga náði Guðjón Valur á HM 2007 þegar hann skoraði 66 mörk í 10 leikjum. Guðjón Valur hefur skipað íslenska landsliðið í öll tíu skiptin sem það hefur tekið þátt í lokakeppni EM. Þar hefur hann leikið 54 af 56 leikjum landsliðsins í lokakeppni EM. Það sem meira er þá hefur hann ekki misst úr leik síðan hann tók þátt í fyrsta skipti í viðureign við Rússa í Rijeka í Króatíu 23. janúar 2000. Guðjón Valur lék sinn fyrsta A-landsleik gegn Ítalíu á alþjóðlegu móti í Haarlem í Hollandi 15. desember 1999, þá tvítugur að aldri. Hann skoraði í tvígang í leiknum. Guðjón Valur tekur nú þátt í sínu 22. Stórmóti á ferlinum með landsliðinu. Hann hefur aðeins misst af einu stórmóti á öldinn, HM 2019, þ.e. af þeim sem íslenska landsliðið hefur á annað borð tryggt sér þátttökurétt á. Hann vann til silfurverðlauna með íslenska landsliðinu á Ólympíuleikunum í Peking árið 2008 og til bronsverðlauna á Evrópumótinu í Austurríki árið 2010. Guðjón Valur var kjörinn íþróttamaður ársins af Samtökum íþróttafréttamanna árið 2006. Hann var valinn í úrvalslið EM 2012 og 2014. Guðjón Valur hóf handknattleiksferil sinn með Gróttu og lék með Gróttu/KR í meistaraflokki áður en hann gekk til liðs við KA árið 1998. Hjá KA var hann í þrjú ár. Eftir það hefur Guðjón Valur leikið með Tusem Essen 2001 til 2005, Gummersbach 2005 til 2008, Rhein-Necker Löwen 2008 til 2011, AG Köbenhavn 2011 til 2012, THW Kiel 2012 til 2014, Barcelona, 2014 til 2016, Rhein-Neckar Löwen 2016 til 2019 og með Paris Saint-Germain frá upphafi yfirstandandi keppnistímabils. Nánar er hægt að lesa um Guðjón Val á heimasíðu HSÍ
A bigger event changed for the better
In 20 years of EURO participation, during which Iceland have never missed a final tournament, and Sigurdsson has never been absent from the team list, the left wing has no hesitation in saying the event has changed significantly.
“The arenas are getting bigger. There are more spectators. There is much more media coverage – of course with social media as well. Everything around this is just bigger and more professional. So, I can actually say that a lot has changed for the better,” he says, before commenting on handball’s evolution in that time.
“In general, it’s gotten a lot faster. You could see it in the first [EURO 2020] games, that you play more fast breaks. Players – in my opinion, they were maybe stronger and, I don’t know if they were slower, but I have the sense that the game has gotten much faster. But it’s a fun change, it’s good.”
Back to the present and more immediate matter of the current EHF EURO. What are Iceland’s goals for the 2020 edition?
“Our goal is to make the main round, and that’s what we have been working for. We’ll just wait and see if that happens. But we also know that we have to play three really tough games against good opponents,” says Sigurdsson.
“We just can’t wait to get started, but we are playing against probably the best team in the world and there’s a lot of Danish people [spectators] – but a lot of Icelandic people as well – so we’ll just wait and see.”