The Lithuanian men and Chinese women were crowned champions of the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA, on Tuesday (9 July).
With the biggest crowds so far in the competition watching the final day of competition at the Turnstone Centre, teams were aiming to impress.
An action packed men’s gold medal match between Lithuania and Turkey saw an incredible nine penalties across the two halves.
Three of those – and two goals – came in the opening four minutes of the match.
Lithuania’s Mantas Panovas squandered his team’s first chance when his penalty shot was stopped by Tuncay Karakaya.
A few minutes later however Lithuania did take the lead. Justus Pazarauskas opened their account with a bouncing ball that sneaked under the Turkish defence.
Pazarauskas then had another penalty saved by Ebubekir Kara but at 08:05 Turkey got their own chance.
Karakaya bought his team level by firing the ball into the corner.
The half did not end without further drama. Panovas found the back of the net twice more with another shot and penalty.
He then had one disallowed but on the return Karakaya failed to capitalise.
The first whistle blew at 3-1.
Panovas managed his hat-trick two minutes after the restart with a spinning discus throw. He then rolled another one over the line to bring the score to 5-1.
Ekrem Gundogdu kept Turkey in the game when he netted a goal but the team could not find their momentum.
Another penalty disrupted their flow once again at 05:05. Panovas once again was the hero, propelling the ball down the left wing and just past the fingers of Gundogdu.
Turkey did reduce their deficit to three at one point when Gundogdu bounced the ball twice before it hit the back of the net.
But a comeback was not to be.
Lithuania bagged another penalty with just six seconds left on the clock to bring the score to 7-3.
“All the time the win is the best emotion and I am very happy,” Marius Ziibolis, a member of the Lithuanian team, said.
“Now we will relax a little bit and then we start to prepare for the European Championships [in Rostock, Germany, in October] because last time we were first and we need to keep it that way.”
Panovas was awarded the men’s Top Scorer award for his efforts in bringing his team the gold medal. That crowned a great tournament for Lithuania, coming back from a disappointing fourth place finish at the 2018 World Championships one year ago.
China overcame Czech Republic in the men’s bronze medal battle.
China opened the scoring with 8:41 on the clock when Hu Ming Yao fired a shot that proved too hard to defend. The ball ricocheted off the body of Swoboda and crept over the line.
China doubled their lead just over six minutes in as Mingyuang Yang found the back of their opponent’s net again.
But Czech Republic had a reply – Lukas Valer reduced their deficit to just one goal with an immediate return.
Yang brought the score to three for China to restore order for the Chinese attack and that is where the scoring ended in the first half.
With the second half underway Czech Republic were not prepared to go down without a fight. Valer got one back with a discus shot from the right hand side of the court straight through the middle of the Chinese defence.
Yao netted a further goal which went high in the air off the legs of Valer to swing the pendulum back into China’s favour.
But Jan Bosek had other ideas. Two bouncing ball goals came in quick succession from the towering player to equalise at 4-4 with 1:46 left on the clock.
China, sensing their second defeat in as many days, turned up the heat. They dramatically regained the lead again just seconds later and added another with 9.3 seconds left of the game. The winner agonisingly bounced in off Swoboda to end the game 6-4.
After the game, one of the Chinese coaches said: “It was a very tough game, the score was very close. Even at times it was even so we kept our defence and made it better and we made it at the end.”
Referring to China’s next steps having not bagged a qualification spot for Tokyo 2020 in Fort Wayne, the coach continued:
“Our major goal was to come here and get the qualification for Tokyo so it’s a pity but we could not go to the finals. We will continue to fight and train and we have another competition in Chiba [the 2019 IBSA Goalball Asian and Oceania Championships] at the end of the year.”
An incredibly close and low scoring gold medal game in the women’s saw Paralympic silver medallists China overcome bronze medallists the USA.
With both teams playing for further glory having already secured spots at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, it was the gold they now wanted.
As the crowds poured into the venue to watch the game, the atmosphere was thick with expectation.
China were the first to rip through the tension with a goal from Chen Fengqing. A discus throw down the middle of the court deflected up and over the USA defence.
With 8:55 on the clock the USA gave their fans the goal they had been waiting for. Asya Miller rolled an under arm shot which bobbled over Wang Shasha.
China however had an almost immediate reply to take the lead once more, but the USA were more than capable of keeping up the pace.
Lisa Czechowski’s effort from the right hand side bounced over the Chinese defence to end the half 2-2.
Just 30 seconds into the next period Shasha was the centre of the latest Chinese attack to make it 3-2.
All the spectators could do was watch as the clocked ticked down without a goal from either side for more than eight minutes. The USA had an effort denied with 3:54 left when a throw from Miller bounced of Xiling Zhang and straight up before bouncing off the top of the bar.
Around one minute later China doubled their lead to 4-2. A shot from Shasha bounced awkwardly over Eliana Mason.
Then a penalty came to give China the buffer they had been searching for. Zhang’s cross-court effort hit the back of the USA to bring the score to 5-2.
The USA did manage another goal with just over 60 seconds remaining as Mason’s attempt awkwardly bounced over the Chinese defence.
However there was just not enough time left on the clock for the USA to come back and the game ended 5-3 with China taking the gold.
Speaking on behalf of her team Czechowski reflected on the competition as a whole: “I thought our team played a really great tournament. We followed our game plan defensively and we accomplished one of our main goals, and that was to qualify for Tokyo next year. We’re really proud of our performance and so grateful for all the support we received from Turnstone and the community of Fort Wayne who have just made the environment so positive and the energy in the room was just awesome.”
Israel claimed the final place on the podium in the women’s competition, with a 12-2 win over Australia.
Israel took an early lead with four goals coming in the first three minutes of the match.
The first came with a spinning effort from Lihi Ben David just over 20 seconds in which went in off Australia’s Meica Horsburgh.
The next goal from Mizrachi was almost the same, deflecting in off Horsburgh. Ben David doubled her score with an impressive shot which went under Jenny Blow and then through the legs of Brodie Smith.
Ben David got her hat-trick with 9:43 on the clock.
Mizrachi and Ben David then added two more for Israel but Australia had hatched a plan. Their attempt at a fight back began with 3:02 left on the clock. A bouncing ball from Smith nutmegged Mizrachi before Alison Jones doubled the Australian score around 30 seconds later.
Ben David added another goal for Israel to end the halftime score at 7-2.
The second 12 minutes started slowly. It was Israel who broke the deadlock with 6:19 on the clock.
Mizrachi secured a hat-trick of her own, powering the ball just beyond Horsburgh’s reach. Ben David then failed to convert a penalty just moments later.
Another three goals, including one penalty, came from Ben David courtesy of her trademark power drive – to bring her total to eight. Opposition teams have struggled all week to defend her throw, which often features a vicious spin. As a result Ben David was awarded the women’s Top Scorer.
A final minute penalty from Sivan Abravaya Levi sealed the deal for Israel, handing them the 10 goal lead to end the match a few seconds early.
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier featured 13 women’s teams and 14 men’s teams.
All games can be re-watched at IBSA's YouTube channel.
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