The quarter-finals for goalball competitions at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier have been decided on a frantic day in Fort Wayne, USA.
Many teams scrambled to gain the best results to give them the strongest chance of getting out of the group stages.
There was drama in the men’s pool A, with four teams having to wait until all the results were known before celebrating. Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden and Argentina were all in the running and had to play twice on the final day of pool play.
Paralympic champions Lithuania – under no pressure having already secured a qualification spot - overcame Canada by a slim one goal margin. That placed the north American side’s hopes of a quarter final spot in danger, despite winning against Sweden in their first game.
Lithuania were 4-2 up at the break and then took control of the start of the second half. They found the net a further two times without reply.
Canada – sensing that the game was slipping away – dug deep and scored five more goals in the second half to bring their score to seven in all, including one in the last 15 seconds.
But it was not enough. Lithuania secured two more goals in the second half to give them a one goal lead, and an 8-7 win.
Sweden were next up to try and strengthen their chances in the group.
They needed to win against Greece to stand any chance of survival having lost 7-4 to Canada earlier in the day.
Fatmir Seremeti took charge in their attack and scored three of Sweden’s four first half goals.
But Athanasios Chatzipantou claimed two for Greece to keep them in the game.
In the second half Greece turned up the pressure. Sweden added two more goals within four minutes but it was Greece who had the momentum. Three more goals came from Chatzipantou, Adriano Bezhani and Grigorios Tatis to bring the Greeks to within one goal their opponents.
However Sweden managed to hold on for the win.
Speaking after the match, and with the result of the final fixture of Lithuania v Argentina still to come, Seremeti said:
“It was a very awkward game. We are usually a much better team than this. It’s been like this all this tournament but a win is a win and we really need that win, so we’ll see.”
Seremeti got his wish when Lithuania beat Argentina 9-2, knocking them out of the competition.
But Sweden’s quarter-final draw will be against China – something which all teams wanted to avoid as the Asian side are unbeaten so far.
Turkey also maintained their perfect record with a 12-2 win over Greece and a 10-3 victory over Czech Republic to top the group. They will face South Korea in the next round.
In the men’s group B, hosts the USA, China, Ukraine, and South Korea are the confirmed quarter-finalists.
Rio 2016 silver medallists the US took on Beijing 2008 champions China in their final group game.
The hosts lost 8-3 and will now face reigning Paralympic title holders Lithuania in the quarter-finals.
The USA's Tyler Merren said: “It’s step no.1 for any team that comes into this tournament – step No.1 break through to the quarter finals.
“We had an opportunity to clench a higher spot and we just didn’t grab onto it. But if you’re gonna be the best, you have got to beat the best eventually so we just faced them earlier than expected.”
On their crucial next game against Lithuania, Merren continued:
“They’re always a good team but it’s not about them it’s about us. Today we didn’t put our best performance on the floor against China, they played very well and we didn’t. It’s all about what we bring to the floor. Whether it’s about Lithuania or anyone else, it’s all about what we do.”
Ukraine strengthened their final position in the group and took their record to four wins, one draw and only one loss. They took on Poland and won 11-2 and will play Czech Republic for a semi-final place.
In the women’s group Y it was a tense eight hours for Denmark. They first had to face Finland in the day’s first game at Indiana Tech. And then they had to wait for the other results from their group to find out if they could continue in the competition.
The Danes gave themselves the best chance by beating Finland 8-5.
Anja Christensen starred in her team’s attack, registering an incredible six goals in the first half with only two replies from Finland. That gave her team a comfortable lead heading into the next 12 minutes.
Finland tried to come back with Krista Leppanen claiming two goals. Raisa Kuusela also had a successful effort but Denmark advanced with two goals from Beritan Fener to seal the win.
Denmark then had to wait nervously for the result of the Ukraine v Canada and USA v Greece games. If Ukraine or Greece won their matches, Denmark would be out by just one painful point behind Finland.
The USA and Canada had already advanced to the next stage with one game in hand on Friday.
That did not stop either side from keeping the momentum going on Saturday. Canada posted a 6-2 win over Ukraine, dashing Ukrainian hopes of a place in the quarter finals but strengthening Denmark and Finland’s chances.
The USA drew 1-1 with Greece, just missing out on an unbeaten run heading into the quarter finals. The hosts however are still in a strong position.
With those results, the USA, Canada, Finland and Denmark keep their Tokyo 2020 dreams alive.
In the women’s group X, Israel, China, Australia and Great Britain were all in action again having already qualified for the quarter finals.
China played Israel in one of the most tantalising games of the tournament so far. The countries were both equal on points at the top of the group going into their final game.
With nothing to lose except a better fixture in the next round, China finished the game with a three goal lead, 6-3.
They will now play Denmark in the quarter finals on Sunday whilst Israel will take on Finland.
In the final pool X game Australia met Great Britain. Both sides already qualified for the next stage so were playing for their preferred match-up.
A 5-0 win for Australia gives them a tie with Canada on Sunday. Great Britain will meet Paralympic bronze medallists the USA.
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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