Hosts the USA, China, Turkey and Paralympic champions Lithuania all grabbed places at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with semi-final wins at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Monday (8 July).
The day’s games were crucial to teams. As well as a shot at gold, the finalists from both the men’s and women’s competitions would secure a Paralympic spot.
The USA women capitalised on the support of their home crowds as they took an 8-4 win over Israel.
The teams both went in to the game evenly matched - Israel had only let in 11 goals all tournament and the USA had conceded 13.
Israel took the early advantage less than 30 seconds into the first half. Lihi Ben David whipped the ball straight down the left side and past an outstretched Asya Miller to get her team on the board.
It only took the USA five seconds to reply after the re-start. Amanda Dennis netted the first of her three goals in the opening 12 minutes.
A successful shot from Asya Miller followed to give the USA a narrow lead.
Dennis found her groove with two more goals to Israel’s one, handing the hosts a two goal margin heading into the second half.
At the re-start Dennis once again opened with a goal, followed by teammate Eliana Mason to bring the score to 6-2.
Israel did respond – Ben David bagged a goal with 7:20 on the clock – but the USA kept on pushing.
Two more goals came from Mason and Dennis to secure the USA’s win. A bruised Israel side found the net once more with an impressive effort from Ben David but a comeback was not to be.
The USA secured a Tokyo 2020 berth and will now play China for the gold on Tuesday (9 July).
After the match Dennis said: “It feels amazing [to secure a place at Tokyo 2020]. Overall our coaches have prepared us so much for this moment. We have worked together as a team to this point now.
“We went to Japan earlier this year [for an international competition] and we saw the things we needed to work on (we got fourth place) and from those particular mistakes we’ve made we’ve been able to perfect our game to become better and better. And we’re not just looking to get a little better and better, we are looking to put our absolute best foot forward and show everybody who we are and defend the fort.
“It’s really great, I am in such great spirits and I know my team is too. There was a lot of emotion coming off that win and quite honestly we’re ready to clench that gold medal tomorrow. We have worked so hard and all of the work that we’ve put in will push us towards that win, along with the crowd’s support.”
The Chinese women’s team secured a place for their team in a tough match against Australia.
China had to play catch-up in the first half with an early cross-court goal from Brodie Smith.
Smith fired her effort towards Xilling Zhang who could only get her fingertips onto it before it crossed the line.
It took the Chinese another five minutes to respond as Australia held their defensive line.
Fenqqing Chen found a way through and then Shasha Wang did so again less than a minute later to give China the lead.
At half-time the Aussie Belles were still well in the game. China knew they had to come out fighting in the second half and so they did – a huge discus effort from Wang was deflected in by Australia’s Jenny Blow.
Australia responded courtesy of Meica Horsburgh but three more Chinese attacks resulted in goals.
Horsburgh then had two more successful attempts on goal, continuing her great offensive efforts that have characterised the Australian line-up in Fort Wayne.
Unfortunately for Australia, five goals from China in the second half was too much of a mountain to climb. The final score was 8-4 to China.
Australia and Israel will play for bronze on Tuesday.
Paralympic champions Lithuania will play Turkey for gold following semi-final wins for both teams.
Lithuania dismantled a previously unbeatable Chinese team to claim one of the Tokyo 2020 spots on offer.
The Lithuanians took a commanding lead in the first half to end it 8-3. Four goals each came from Justus Pazarauskas and Mantas Panovas.
China tried to stay in touch with their opponents with a trio of their own but the deficit was too much for the Asian silver medallists to overcome.
Despite Lithuania slowing down in the second half, only adding two more goals, China could not find the edge they needed. Yang Mingyuan hit the back of the Lithuanian net just twice more to bring his team’s total to five.
The match finished 12-5 to the Paralympic champions, punching their ticket to Japan for next year.
Mantas Brazauskis said: “We really wanted to do it and we did it. It’s very…I don’t know how to describe it but it’s a very great moment!”
Turkey were the first to score in their game against Czech Republic with 6:12 on the clock.
Giving his team a boost was Ebubekir Kara with a quick return off a Czech Republic effort. The ball deflected off Lukas Valer and into the roof of the net.
Just under a minute later, a flurry of Turkey goals came. Tuncay Karakaya fired one into the corner of the opposition net and then Kara got his second goal of the game at the restart.
The first-half goals concluded with a spinning effort from Karakaya past Jan Bosek to bring the score to 4-0.
The Czech Republic team, realising that they had just 12 minutes to save their Tokyo 2020 qualification campaign, were the first to find the net in the second half.
Valer successfully split the Turkish defence with a discus throw to get his team on the board.
But Turkey then had a penalty awarded to add another to their tally. Karakaya was once again the hero – Bosek went the right way but could not get his feet to the ball.
Turkey’s sixth goal came when an effort from Kara bounced like a pinball between the Czech Republic’s defence and just bobbled over the line.
Kara capitalised on the momentum for his next goal, powering the ball right-handed from the very edge of the court and into the back of the net.
Turkey then had another two goals disallowed with just seconds left of the game. That handed the Czech Republic a penalty and Tomas Jirout duly took the opportunity to double his team’s score to two.
The game ended 7-2 to Turkey. With a place at Tokyo 2020 secured the London 2012 Paralympic bronze medallists can now turn their attentions to the gold medal match on Tuesday.
China and Czech Republic will face-off for bronze, also on Tuesday.
Other countries were in action in the placement games.
The USA finished fifth in the men’s thanks to an overtime victory against Ukraine.
South Korea ended seventh overall after a close 9-7 victory over Sweden, who complete the tournament in eighth place.
In the women’s Canada beat Great Britain 7-2 to claim fifth place.
Finland finish seventh after beating Denmark 7-3.
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier features 13 women’s teams and 14 men’s teams.
The competition is being shown live at the IBSA Goalball’s Facebook page and IBSA’s YouTube channel.
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