Paralympic champions Brazil successfully defended their world title at the 2018 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Championships in Madrid, Spain, on Sunday (17 June) with a tension-filled 2-0 win over Argentina.
In a replay of the final from four years ago in Tokyo, Japan, and the gold medal match at the 2017 Americas Championships, the two blind football powerhouses faced each other once again.
An incredibly tense first half opened proceedings as temperatures pushed 30 degrees Celsius in Madrid.
Argentina, the Americas champions, were stronger in attack but the quality of both sides showed. Chances came for Maximiliano Espinillo but nothing found its way through. At the other end, the Argentinians were compact in defence. The net result was 0-0 at half-time.
The tension continued into the second half but it was shattered in the 23rd minute by a wonder strike from Brazil’s Richardinho. Shooting from around eight meters out the tournament top scorer’s attempt ricocheted in off the post.
In the 33rd minute Argentina had their best chance of the half so far when David Peralta missed from right in front of the goal. Espinillo then had a go a few seconds later but it was saved by Luan de Lacerda Goncalves.
Brazil, sensing their fragile lead was under threat, called a timeout. It turned out to be a tactical masterstroke.
At the re-start Raimundo Nonato received the ball in his own half and proceeded to out-run and weave his way past Peralta and Froilan Padilla. He scored Brazil’s second goal with just under five minutes left to seal Argentina’s fate.
The win is Brazil’s fifth world title and third consecutive gold. They also qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Caption: Brazil won their fifth world title at the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships
Tournament top scorer prize with 10 goals, Ricardinho, said: "I am very happy. I am proud of myself because I broke my nose during the semi-final and I had problems with breathing.
“I am proud of the sacrifice of the whole team to win the World Cup. Argentina has a great team with very good players. It was a very exciting final and a tough challenge."
Silver medallists Argentina made it onto their sixth World Championships podium.
Nicolas Veliz said: “I am happy despite the defeat. Argentina fought face-to-face with Brazil. I think Brazil are technically at a higher level and I congratulate them of course. I am very proud of the whole team because we gave everything throughout the whole World Cup and especially in the final.
“I think it’s time to start looking at the next Paralympics. We keep fighting to grow blind football in Argentina. We look forward to another match against Brazil and we will get revenge.”
The bronze medal match was a clash of the regional champions. Asian title holders China faced European gold medallists, and debutants, Russia.
China played in a much more attacking style than their semi-final against Brazil and it paid off.
It took just under three minutes for Zhang Jiabin to successfully find his way through the entire Russian defence. A powerful finish past Anton Iakovlev made sure of China’s early lead.
There was a near miss from Tikhonov after a foul by China with seconds to play in the first half. However the star striker failed to capitalise on this occasion.
Into the second 20 minutes Tikhonov nearly breached the Chinese goal again with a deflection off Liu Meng. The ball’s change of path caught Wang Zhen off guard but he still managed a great save.
In the 31st minute another impressive run by Jiabin doubled China’s lead. Once against the Russian defence could not live with the striker and he found a way through.
But Russia fought back. Tikhonov sent Meng and Xu Guansheng the wrong way in the 33rd minute to give himself a clear shot on goal and claim one back for his team.
Great ball skill by Zhu Ruiming and an even greater save by Iakovlev on the line stopped China from adding a third goal in the final minute.
Russia had the chance to equalise with four seconds left on the clock but a last ditch attempt by Denis Egorov from a free kick was deflected away from goal.
Caption: China beat Russia for their first podium finish at a World Championships since 2010
China celebrated their 2-1 victory and second podium finish at a blind football World Championships. They also claimed bronze in Hereford, Great Britain, in 2010.
Speaking after the match, Jiabin was in reflective mood: “I am a little sad to get the bronze medal because we had the chance to get to the final, even the gold medal, so I am a little bit unsatisfied but it’s ok.”
When asked if he was pleased with his performance, Jiabin commented that even after his two goals he was not totally satisfied: “I just showed my normal level of skill. After too many matches my energy was consumed and I felt a little bit tired.”
Russian captain Sergey Manzhos was happy with his team’s Championships debut: “The result is very good taking into account we are here at the World Championships for the first time. We had a good experience. Now we know what to work on and there are some things we need to improve. We fought and tried to perform our best, but nothing can be done now. Someone has to win.”
The 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships, featuring 16 teams, were the biggest in history. The competition has seen debuts for Mexico, Central American champions Costa Rica, Mali, European champions Russia, Thailand and Iran.
Full results and videos of all games can be found at the official Championships website.
Caption: The banner of the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships