There was a mix of joy and sadness for hosts the USA at the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne on Sunday (7 July).
Both the men’s and women’s teams were playing for semi-final spots that would keep their hopes in the tournament alive.
But it was not to be for the men as they lost a very tight game against reigning Paralympic champions Lithuania in a rematch of the final from the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
However the women continue in the tournament after beating Great Britain.
The men’s game was a hugely tense affair with an even more dramatic ending.
The first half ended 4-1 to Lithuania and after the break, the USA came out fighting.
Just 11 seconds into the half Josh Welbourn fired one of his characteristic power shots into his opponent’s net to bring the US right back into the game.
Lithuania replied with a goal shortly after to regain the four goal gap. But Welbourn was once again the hero with another huge effort to bring the score to 5-2.
Lithuania were by now a bit unsteady in defense and soon after they gave away a penalty with a long ball. But the USA failed to capitalise as Tyler Merren threw the shot just wide.
The heavily defensive game continued on.
Another penalty was called, but this time against Lithuania. Welbourn went to the right of the court and scored under the arms of the single Lithuanian defender to bring the score to 5-3.
At 2:20 left on the clock, Welbourn found the chink in the armour of the opposing team to score another power drive through a gap in their defense.
With the US now within one goal of drawing level they handed another penalty to Lithuania with a high ball. Justus Parzarauskas worked with his teammate to create a deception that fooled Welbourn and the ball went in.
The next penalty came but this time it was for the USA with 42 seconds left on the clock. Welbourn took the opportunity with both hands and bought the score to 6-5.
The tables turned yet again with just seconds left on the clock. The next high ball infraction from Welbourn gave Lithuania a golden opportunity to secure the win. Lithuania tried the deception tactic again but this time the US were ready –Welbourn got behind it to deny Lithuania a two goal victory.
But the most dramatic moment of the game was reserved for the final throw. Welbourn took hold of the ball with five seconds left on the clock. Knowing it was the last chance of the game for the USA, his shot punched through the air and, as everyone held their breath in the venue, it went in through the legs of the Lithuanian defense.
As cheers rang out across the venue, no one had noticed the referee waving his arms to deny the goal. Welbourn’s shot was a long ball and the game ended 6-5.
“It’s heartbreaking. We gave it all we got,” Welbourn said. “I have got to tip my cap to Lithuania, they really palyed incredible defense all game long. Even though we were able to poke a couple in there, it wasn’t enough. Hats off to that team and their coaches as well as to my team and Coach Boyle and coach Muhammad for giving us a solid game plan.
“Even though the qualification possibilities in this tournament are directly over for us, it doesn’t matter we are going to come out swinging 110 per cent as we have since the beginning of this tournament. All these games matter, even though some people might say ‘oh it’s just a placement game, all these games matter.”
Lithuania will now play China after their 13-3 win over Sweden.
The Swedes took on an unbeaten Chinese side in what was always going to be a challenging game against one of the best teams in the competition. The game ended early as China reached a 10-goal lead on their opponents to knock them out of the competition.
The USA women had better luck in their quarter-final game on Sunday, advancing past Great Britain.
A solid first half performance from the hosts put them 7-0 up at the first whistle.
Eliana Mason got the scoring underway at 10:17 before five-time Paralympian Asya Miller added two.
Four more goals came in the first half for the US from Amanda Dennis.
Dennis added another two minutes into the second 12 minutes. Lisa Czechowski followed on with one more.
Great Britain did get one goal back courtesy of Kali Holder at around 7 minutes on the clock. However the momentum had shifted too far in favour of the US.
In their post-match interview the USA could only describe their feelings through a delighted cheer.
Turkey overcame South Korea 7-3 to secure their place in the semi-finals.
South Korea opened the scoring the first half courtesy of Intae Jong. However it did not take long for Turkey to turn on the style, grabbing five goals of their own. Three came from Ebubekir Kara and two from Tuncay Karakaya.
In the second 12 minutes the teams were fairly evenly matched. They both found the net twice but with Turkey already enjoying a four goal lead it was enough to grab the win.
Huseyin Alkan said: “It’s a very nice feeling because we are one game away from going to our third Paralympic Games and representing our country.
“I was really slow in the reaction time because the ball was hard today. But 1.5 meters behind me I had my teammates and they saved me. As the game went on the ball got softer and we showed what we are made of.”
Turkey will face Czech Republic for a place in the final after they overcame a hard to beat Ukrainian side on Sunday.
It was difficult to separate the teams at the first whistle with the score at 2-2.
Ukraine’s Oleksandr Toporkov opened the scoring within the first minute. The Czech Republic then drew level and took the lead courtesy of Jan Bosek and Lukas Valer.
Ukraine equalled things up just before the buzzer when Vasyl Ollinyk found the back of the net.
Yevnehiy Tsyhanenko then gave the Ukrainians the lead three minutes into the second half but another goal would not come for another eight minutes. Tsyhanenko was the scorer again.
With a two goal deficit Czech Republic realised they had to act. With renewed energy Bosek and Valer managed to claw the game back with two goals in 15 seconds.
At the final whistle both teams faced extra time. It was Valer who was the hero for Czech Republic, successfully firing the ball down the middle of the court and through the Ukrainian defence.
Israel claimed a semi-final match-up with the USA after winning 5-3 against Finland.
It took almost six minutes for the first goal to come as both sides kept their defensive lines strong.
Ori Mizrahi found the net to give Israel the lead - twice. But Finland had two replies waiting, scoring twice in 11 seconds. Krista Leppanen bagged their first, swiftly followed by Susanna Halme to level the score.
In the second half, Lihi Ben David opened the scoring to give Israel the lead. Mizrahi and Ben David then found the net twice more.
Finland could only manage one more successful effort in the second half and the semi-final spot went to Israel.
China took the lead in the first half of their game against Denmark, but the Danish managed to defend most of their attacks well.
Xiling Zhang and Fenqing Chen were the scorers for China as the opening 12 minutes ended 2-0.
In the second half China’s lead was extended by three goals but it could have been much more. Denmark’s Anja Christensen was heroic in defense, saving multiple penalties as Zhang bought her total to three overall.
Australia will advance to a semi-final face-off with China following their victory over Canada.
Amy Burke got the Canadians off to a good start just over four minutes into the first half.
It took Australia the same amount of time to respond, but once a goal from Brodie Smith had hit the back of the net the flood gates opened.
Canada had a penalty goal disallowed and the reply came from Meica Horsburgh. Amy Burke could only get her fingertips on the shot and it was not enough to stop it. Horsburgh rounded off the half with another goal to set the score at 3-1.
After the break Australia’s fourth goal came from Horsburg. A quick penalty shot bounced over the Canadian defence and into the goal.
Australia had their first penalty chance in the second half denied by Emma Reinke. Canada then had a goal disallowed a few seconds later but Smith fired wide in the penalty shot.
Then in the last 60 seconds Canada had another goal disallowed for a long ball from Burke, handing Australia another penalty.
The Aussies added to their lead with Horsburg scoring against Burke to end the game 5-1.
After the match Horsburgh said: “It feels really good. It was always part of our plan. I want to acknowledge Canada for a great fight in the quarter finals.”
Jenny Blow, who was a key feature of her team’s defence, concluded: Top four, we can’t get better than that. Pool play is important but today was really the most important game.”
All semi-finals will take place on Monday (8 July).
Teams who will not advance to the semi-finals will play placement games, also on Monday.
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier features 13 women’s teams and 14 men’s teams. The gold and silver medallists from Fort Wayne 2019 will punch their tickets to Tokyo 2020.
The competition is being shown live at the IBSA Goalball’s Facebook page and IBSA’s YouTube channel.
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