Russia under pressure ahead of clash with hungry Iceland

FEATURE: Returning to the EHF EURO after missing the previous edition – their first absence from the final tournament in history – Russia are aiming to avoid elimination in the preliminary round

Russia's Timur Dibirov is promising that his side will play better handball against Denmark than they did against Iceland. Photo © Anze Malovrh / kolektiff

Russia are under pressure heading into their round two encounter against Iceland, having been defeated by Hungary in a tight match to open their group E campaign in Malmö. The decision came down to a save by Hungary goalkeeper Roland Mikler in the dying seconds, and Russia had to settle for a 25:26 loss.

“It was a very bad game, for the team and also for me personally. We are all very disappointed. We will forget everything from the last match, and in the future we will play better handball,” says Russia left wing Timur Dibirov.

The result means Russia enter the second day of matches for the group, on Monday, with zero points. In their return to the EHF EURO after they missed the final tournament for the first time in history in 2018, Russia are eager to stay in the race as long as possible.

However, they will take on an Icelandic side equally hungry to avoid elimination, after having overthrown powerful teams in their campaign openers at the previous two EHF EUROs before missing places in the preliminary round.

“Iceland have very good players – very intelligent players. I watched the game yesterday [Saturday] and I think tomorrow [Monday] we will play a very, very hard game and a very important game for us, because maybe [if] we lose tomorrow, we will go home. We understand that. But we trained today more positive, and we will see,” says Dibirov.

A victory against Russia will place Iceland in a favourable position to reach the next stage. Based on the round one results in the group, it appears Russia have the most difficult road to reach the main round, and Dibirov is very aware of the tough situation his team are in.

“It was a very good game for team Iceland against Denmark, and now the situation is not good for us and very good for Iceland. I think Denmark, in the next two games, will play better and better,” says Dibirov, two-time VELUX EHF Champions League winner with HC Vardar. “They have very, very, very good players and coach, and I think it will be no problem for them to qualify for the next round.”

All is open

Denmark were the clear favourites in the group ahead of the start of the competition, and Iceland’s win against the current world and Olympic champions threw the group open.

As Russia back Sergei Gorbok highlights, the result was even more of a surprise considering Denmark played in a Malmö Arena full of largely Danish supporters. Gorbok believes Gudmundsson’s history as Denmark’s coach was a key factor for Iceland to overthrow the side.

“Denmark were the favourites in this group, but I think something was special for the trainer Gudmundur Gudmundsson in this match, and Iceland won. Okay, Denmark play in Sweden but it’s only 30km – they basically play at home,” says Gorbok, who thinks the unexpected result is a good thing for the competition. “It’s good for the players, also for the fans. All is open at this time. We will see what happens.”

Gorbok himself has history with the Iceland coach, having played under him at German club Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

“More or less I know his tactics, but all the time Iceland play very fast and modern handball. We will see which tactic will be better,” concludes Gorbok.

written by Courtney Gahan / jh