The US men’s goalball team secured their tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with a 6-4 semi-final win over Canada on Thursday (29 August) at the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru.
With Brazil already qualified for next year’s Paralympics and winning their semi-final against Venezuela in the game before, the pressure was on the USA and Canada to reach the final.
It was therefore a tense tie between the two north American teams.
Canada gained the advantage in the first minute when Blair Nesbitt hit the back of the US net. It took a long two minutes for Josh Welborn to level the scores, followed shortly after by Tyler Merren to give the USA the lead.
But Nesbitt evened things up. Another two minutes passed before Welborn put the US ahead again.
The first-half scoring ended with six minutes on the clock when Nesbitt reached a hat-trick to bring the score to 3-3. Both sides, careful of giving their rivals a glimmer of hope, played a great defensive game.
Into the second half and it was Welborn once again who gave the USA the lead. Striking with 22 minutes left on the clock he followed up again four minutes later to extend their lead to two goals.
Nesbitt added another to keep Canada in contention but they found it too difficult to penetrate the US lines. Merren restored the two goal advantage to round-off the US goals and end the match 6-4.
“It’s what we came here for,” Merren said. “We said from the beginning it was us we needed to beat. We went out there and we executed a really good game. We had a few penalties but we kept them off the board and came away with a victory. It feels so good. So good.
“We just kept executing, one shot after the other, one block after another. We know Canada have some good firepower so it was just trying to lock in every single ball every single time. We just stuck with our strategy and it paid off today.
The USA will now take on defending Parapan champions Brazil on Saturday (31 August) for gold.
“We came here to win. Qualify - step one, two is to win. Brazil is an amazing team. We love those guys, we’ve trained with them a lot. We really enjoy their company but when we play with them it’s all business. Afterwards we have some fun.”
Leomon Moreno starred in Brazil’s 11-1 victory over Venezuela with eight goals, all of which came in the first half. Josemarcio Sousa netted three of his own including one in the second half to hand Brazil a 10 goal lead and end the match early.
In the women’s the USA and Brazil made it through to Friday’s semi-finals.
The USA beat Canada 4-3 to finish top of the group. Brazil overcame Mexico 3-2.
However Mexico and Canada ended the pool play amonsgt the top four teams and therefore will play again in the semis.
The USA will take on Mexico and Canada will face Brazil.
Another chapter to one of the sport’s great rivalries will be played out on Friday as Brazil and Argentina will take each other on for the title.
Brazil are the reigning Paralympic, world and Parapan champions and new Americas title-holders after reclaiming the cup from Argentina earlier in the year.
Brazil beat Peru 5-0 on Thursday in their last preliminary game. Two goals came from Ricardinho and one from Jeferson as well as super-subs Maicon Junior Dos Santos Mendes and Jardiel Vieira Soares.
Argentina’s clash against Colombia was decided on a lone second-half goal from Maxi Espinillo.
Colombia do still have a shot at the podium and will play Mexico for bronze after they overcame Costa Rica 1-0 in their final group game.
Full results from Lima for all sports can be found at the official website, as well as live coverage of the sports.