By Alison Thompson | For IBSA
The Spanish men’s goalball team are riding high after promotion to the A pool in 2018 and now have a new challenge in their sights: Tokyo 2020 Paralympics qualification.
The team will get two chances in 2019. The first will come in less than two weeks time at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA, from 2-9 July. Then the 2019 IBSA Goalball European Championships A will take place in Rostock, Germany, from 5-11 October.
It is a busy time and like all teams preparing for the tournaments, the Spanish team and their coach, Francisco Monreal, are keen for the action to get started: “I’ve been involved in goalball for many, many years and my vision each year is the same as a beginner. I want to see my players having their best performance.
“This season is divided in two great objectives: the IBSA Paralympic Qualification Tournament and the Europeans in Rostock. For each one we have the same preparation schema: three training camps and one international friendly tournament. In addition, each athlete continues to perform their individual training.”
The 2019 season comes off the back of a successful 2018 for Spain who took an impressive third place in last year’s European Championships B in Chorzow, Poland, leading to promotion.
“The first sensation was a full liberation. We had a lot of pressure to achieve the promotion to the A category. We were really happy and celebrated by singing in the locker room and had a big party in the hotel later,” beams Monreal.
To claim their third place overall, the team had convincing wins over Portugal (12 -5) and Slovenia (7 -1) to finish second in their group. After missing out on a chance at gold by losing to eventual winners Ukraine, they then beat Poland 10-5 in the bronze medal match to claim the last promotion place.
“Ukraine were the toughest overall at the Europeans, but Poland were our strongest opponent during all the year. We played three or four times against the Polish team and the scores were always very close,” Monreal said.
As well as their overall success, the team also had their own shining star of 2018 in Felix Vargas, who was the third top scorer of the Euros in Chorzow. Vargas scored 26 goals, only four short of the top spot.
“Felix had a great performance in 2018 and was nominated Most Valued Player of the Championships,” Monreal said. “He is confident in repeating this year that great performance, but he is always thinking in the team first”.
Spain’s men are clearly in a strong position and are confident of the job they need to do as they head into this years competitions. “We know that our defense must be decisive. For this, the concentration will be very important. The team has young players, so they can learn so much and reach a lot of success.”
And their ambition?
“We are going for a good performance in both competitions, and a medal, why not?”
Young they may be, but they are strong and determined. Monreal describes the team as “a big family”, where everyone respects each other and values the commitment they make. “We would be nowhere without teamwork”.
Monreal continues: “The biggest thing we learnt from last year was to never give up. In that final game against Poland [in Chorzow], we showed that we know how fight until the end and don't lose hope.”
Monreal and his team are all set to embrace 2019 but of course, cannot help but think about the possibility of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Monreal, though, keeps one foot on the ground. “We don’t feel under more pressure about the possibility of qualifying and prefer to think of it as a present and an extra opportunity to demonstrate the level of our team. I always tell my team that if they play well, we’ll be happy.”
But for Monreal, the man, his love of the sport was perhaps inevitable and the reason behind his passion, dedication and belief in his team. “My own inspiration comes from my father Diego Monreal, former Physical Education Teacher at the Blind School in Madrid and who introduced goalball in Spain.”
And perhaps because of that and the team’s success, they enjoy a lot of support in their homeland: “The team get a lot of support and inspiration from everyone that follows and support us every day.”
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier will run from 2-9 July in three venues across the city of Fort Wayne. Thirteen women’s and 14 men’s teams will take to the courts hoping to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020 by winning gold or silver.
The competition will be shown live at IBSA Goalball’s Facebook page and IBSA’s YouTube channel. Match schedules are available at the official competition website.
They will be followed by the IBSA Goalball European Championships A in Rostock from 5-14 October.