By Pajulahti Games and IBSA
Finland’s men’s and women’s goalball teams begin the year hopeful of Paralympic qualification as they take on some of the world’s best teams at the Pajulahti Games in Pajulahti, Finland, from 18-20 January.
The multisport event features seven sports overall and has attracted around 400 athletes.
For the Finnish goalball teams, it is a chance to get a strong start to 2019 which will feature two chances to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. These are the 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA, from 2-9 July and the 2019 IBSA Goalball European Championships A in Rostock, Germany, from 5-14 October.
The women’s team are riding high after securing promotion to the A pool at the 2018 Euros B. They will face a tough field of teams in Pajulahti including world champions Russia, Denmark and Great Britain.
The men will take on an equally difficult task against Paralympic champions Lithuania, Czech Republic and South Korea.
“The quality is very high,” Jarko Pokkinen, head coach, said. “Lithuania and the Czech Republic are very familiar to us and last year we took on South Korea. Then we won a few matches, but South Korea has a strong team. They were third in the Asian Games last year, where they won a bronze match in Japan.”
However Finland are confident that they have good players in both the men’s and women’s and new faces coming through.
The Finnish men's national team is divided into two for the Pajulahti Games. The white team features Erkki Miinala, Jarno Mattila, Markus Tihumäki and Joni Ylönen. The blue team includes Ville Montonen, Ehsan Zoveidavi, Eetu Eronen and Miika Honkanen.
“Within the team, we consider the Paralympic place to be a hard but completely realistic goal. It does not require the failure of other teams, but it is enough that we succeed,” Pokkinen concluded.
The Pajulahti Games run until 20 January. A livestream of the goalball competitions is available here.
Judo, showdown, athletics, powerlifting, alpine skiing and sitting volleyball are also being contested. More information is available at the Pajulahti Games website.