Russia, Montenegro and Slovenia have been promoted to group B of European goalball after finishing on the podium at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball Euros C in L’Aquila, Italy earlier in November.
Twelves men’s teams took to the courts at the Championships which set a new benchmark for the lower divisions of the sport on and off the field of play.
Fans were able to watch games from L’Aquila 2019 live as promising young players such as Montenegro’s Nikola Nikolic had the chance to take on the likes of Slovenian veteran Matej Ledinek.
The conclusion of the round robin games in Pools A and B saw Romania, Italy, Montenegro, Denmark, Slovenia, Russia, Hungary and the Netherlands advance to the knock-out stages.
Meanwhile Croatia and Slovakia left with points towards the world rankings and experience for the future whilst Bulgaria showcased a competitive game. Paris 2024 hosts France also impressed in their bid to move through the divisions ahead of their home Paralympics. All four teams will return in 2021 to try once again for promotion.
The fight for the final
Denmark’s early promise, shown through impressive performances from Friis-Hansen Silas and Gregersen Caspar, provide to be no match for Slovenia in the final eight.
The Danes fell 12-4 to their opponents to finish seventh overall, while Slovenia would advance to semi-final tie with Hungary.
Hungary secured their place after emerging the victors from a very even game against Romania.
Both teams bagged 12 and 11 goals respectively in one of the closest scorelines of the competition, with defensive mistakes and penalty throws conceded on either side of the court. However it was Romania, following a high number of substitutions, that struggled for continuity and sent Hungary through.
The loudest cheers of the tournament were reserved for hosts Italy’s quarter-final against Russia. However despite the support, the Russian defence and attack – with goals from Mikhail Egorov – proved too much for the Italians to handle.
Dimitri Bernardi’s injury added to Italy’s woes against an almost faultless Russian defensive line. Eduard Pambukchayan was awarded the Player of the Tournament for his contributions for Russia, mostly in keeping the goals out of the net.
Russia advanced to the semis with a 10-4 win to face Montenegro who themselves had overcome the Dutch 12-2.
Montenegro were the victors in that tie, beating the Russians 11-7 to advance to the gold medal match.
The other semi-final showed just how strong Slovenia were in the competition when they overcame Hungary 12-2.
Dramatic overtime highlights final
All the signs pointed towards a great final as both Montenegro and Slovenia lined-up unbeaten.
After several defensive errors on both sides, Slovenia closed the first half in the lead.
Montenegro then had their coach Nikola Curovic ejected from the field of play for a double illegal coaching penalty.
With the scores level at 8-8, a delay of game penalty was awarded against Slovenia and Montenegro had the chance to win the game. However they could not take the advantage when the ball bounced off the Slovenian defence and away from goal.
A tense first overtime half ended scoreless, requiring both teams to maintain a very effective defence.
It was Slovenia’s Ledinek who was again the hero for his team, netting the golden goal in the last 17 seconds of overtime. Ledinek also left with the Top Scorer trophy.
In the bronze medal match, Russia beat Hungary 13-4 to secure their promotion.
Russia, Montenegro and Slovenia will now be able to show their strength in 2020 at the IBSA Goalball European Championships B in Afula, Israel, where the top three teams will go for promotion to group A.