The semi-finals of the 2018 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Blind Football World Championships will feature Argentina v Russia and China v Brazil following some exciting matches in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday (13 June).
Debutants and European champions Russia broke Spanish hearts in the opening game of the day, claiming a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the hosts in a re-run of the 2017 European Championships final.
Spain had hoped that 2018 would be their year, having reached four World Championships podiums over 20 years.
However a solitary goal by Andrei Tikhonov in the 38th minute put paid to Spain’s dream of winning their first world title.
The Russian goalkeeper Anton Iakovlev was kept busy throughout the match, especially in the first half. Shots on goal came relentlessly from Spain, especially Adolfo Acosta.
Russia found some better form in the second half and began to push with unsuccessful attempts on goal from Denis Egorov and Evgenii Shelaev. With the clock ticking down and thoughts starting to turn to the possibility of penalties, Russia’s perseverance paid off when Tikhnov made a solo run from his own half.
The striker dribbled the ball round three Spanish defenders before he found the back of the net with a neat little back heel from just in front of the goal.
A foul from Russia handed Spain one last chance to equalise but once again Iakovlev put himself in front of a shot from Acosta.
Russia guide Vitalii Budukin said: “It’s great, and very exciting. When you are for the first time at such a big event, the World Championships, it’s great to take part. Thanks a lot for all the players and everybody who made it possible for us.
“We came here for it, to win the World Championships. We are not watching, we are playing football, we are doing our best to gain the best result.”
Asian champions China emerged victorious from a tough battle in their quarter final against Morocco.
The opening 10 minutes was an end-to-end game but China created the most chances.
They finally got the goal they had been pushing for when a foul by Morocco’s Houssam Ghilli in the 12th minute handed their rivals a golden opportunity. Zhang Ziabin outwitted the Moroccan wall, weaving his way round and firing a shot that ricocheted in off the post.
China continued to keep the pressure up throughout the rest of the match. Shots from Wei Jiansen and Zhu Ruiming kept Morocco’s keeper Samir Bara on his toes. Morocco had their own opportunities but attempts by Azzouzi Ahmed failed to find their way across the line.
“China were better than us because they have trained and they have prepared more times than us,” Zouhair Snisla said after the match. “There are many reasons for the loss. The first is we didn’t prepare well and the preparation wasn’t enough to let us win this match. But for me I am happy because we didn’t lose this match by a big margin. It’s good, it’s very nice because all of the factors, all of the problems we suffered from we have been here and we fought. We fought a lot.”
A tense tie between Americas champions Argentina and England ended dramatically with penalties after a 1-1 draw at full-time.
A super-strike from Maximiliano Espinillo took England by surprise within the first two minutes.
A series of shots on goal from both sides followed but the half ended without any more goals.
In the second Argentina had attempts from David Peralta, Froilan Padilla and Nicolas Veliz whilst Robin Williams starred in the English attack.
England then broke the deadlock, levelling the score in the 36th minute after a foul by Argentina saw Brandon Coleman this time take centre stage. Coleman side-stepped the wall just in front of the area and powered it into the net. The whistle blew without any more goals.
England won the toss and decided to shoot first. Brandon Coleman missed the target.
Espinillo followed him for Argentina but could also not find the net.
German Muleck was then forced to save a shot from Dan English for England.
England held their breath as the ball was placed on the penalty spot for Veliz. He was taking no prisoners, finding the top of the net to leave Dylan Malpas with no chance of a save.
It was down to Darren Harris to keep England in the game but his effort was saved by Muleck. Argentina go through to the semi-finals with a 1-0 win on penalties.
Jonathan Pugh, England coach, said: “We are gutted to be honest. On balance in the second half of play we dominated possession and we just couldn’t get that goal early enough. I think if we had have got it early enough we would have gone on to win the game.
"It goes to penalties and they’ve got a history of winning penalty shoot-outs and we haven’t. I just think it showed the quality and the penalties were better for them.”
Argentina will now play Russia for a final place on Friday (15 June) at 4:30pm (CET).
Caption: The semi-finals and placement games after the quarter-finals took place on Wednesday (13 June)
Defending champions Brazil eased their way past Colombia in the final match of the day.
Gledson battled his way through the Colombian defence, managing to stay on his feet to ensure Brazil were first on the scoreboard in the seventh minute.
The Paralympic title holders went on to create more chances but it was not until right before half-time that they managed to double their score.
Ricardinho showed impressive control, tricking the defence into thinking he was heading away from goal before turning and scoring from just outside of the area.
A confident run and powerful punt from Raimundo Nonato then saw Brazil’s lead increased to 3-0 five minutes into the second half. That would be the last goal of the match as Brazil tried, but failed, to add many more.
Richardinho reflected on his team's performance and semi-final against China: "Colombia is a very hard team. If they had won today they would probably go on to win the title. China is a very good team with good technique and pace. They have the possibility of winning the World Championships.
"We have respect for the all the semi-finallists but we're not afraid of anyone."
Brazil will play China for a final place on Thursday at 7pm.
The 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships, featuring 16 teams, are the biggest in history. The competition has seen debuts for Mexico, Central American champions Costa Rica, Mali, European champions Russia, Thailand and Iran.
As well as the title, the winners of the sixteen-team tournament will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
In the other placement games, Turkey play France on Thursday at 9am for a chance at 13th place as do South Korea and Costa Rica at 11:30am. The battle for ninth and 10th will be decided after Thailand play Iran at 4:30pm and Mexico v Mail at 7pm.
All the games can be watched live at the official Championships website. Click here to view the full standings in the round-robin group stage.
You can also follow all the exciting action on Facebook at IBSA Blind Football
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Caption: The logo of the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships