INTERVIEW-Olympics-Handball-Iceland coach hails wonder half

LONDON, July 31 Tue Jul 31, 2012 8:13am EDT

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LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - Gudmundur Gudmundsson has been coaching handball for 23 years and rated his Iceland Olympic side's first-period scoring blitz against Tunisia on Tuesday as one of the best halves he has ever seen.

At 1-1 after five minutes the Beijing silver medallists did not come flying out of the blocks. But seven minutes later they led 6-1, before racking up 19 goals in the first 30 minutes to blow the North Africans out of sight.

Although Iceland's performance dipped in the second half en route to a 32-22 win, Gudmundsson was clearly delighted with his Group A pacesetters, who have won both of their games so far.

"We had more or less a flawless game in the first half, which is not easy in handball," Gudmundsson told Reuters as the exhausted Iceland players nearby drank from water bottles.

"Our scoring percentage was 86 per cent, our defence was very strong as was our goalkeeper, so I have to say the first half was one of the best I have ever experienced as a coach. And I've been around a long time," he said with a smile.

"This is an emotional team, fighting all the time from the beginning."

Iceland began the second half like a fast-moving train, moving into a 23-8 lead after just 35 minutes of play, and then slowed, constantly rotating team members with the next group games in mind.

"We went down when we were resting players but I was very pleased when we pushed on the gas pedal again in the last five minutes and scored some very good goals."

TOUGHER COMPETITORS AHEAD

Iceland next face three-time silver medallists Sweden on Aug. 2 (2015 GMT) and defending champions France on Aug. 4 (1830), tougher opposition than first-game opponents Argentina and Tunisia.

The prospect did not worry Gudmundsson, who said his players were looking forward to a more "normal" time to be on court.

"Nine-thirty in the morning is not easy for any team. We have had this now two times and we are a bit tired. We have not been sleeping enough. It's not easy to go to bed early and wake up at 5:30 in the morning. It's tough."

Iceland's lack of sleep has barely showed, however.

"We have been preparing for this for a week. You have to prepare in a very special way. We've done that."

As for Iceland's defence of their surprise second place four years ago, the nation's first silver medal since 1956, Gudmundsson was pleased with the progress of his team.

"Our objective was to win our first two games and qualify for the quarter-finals as quickly as possible. We have a clear goal, but we will not talk about it," he said with a grin before dashing off to congratulate his team in the locker room. (Edited by Sonya Hepinstall)

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