By German Paralympic Committee
With just a few days to go until the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball European Championships A, hosts Germany have announced the men’s and women’s players who will go for gold in Rostock from 8-13 October.
Head coach Johannes Gunther is confident his men’s team can challenge for the top podium spot following their World Championships silver medal from 2018.
The Germans are relaxed heading into Rostock 2019 having already secured a place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with that performance.
All six players who reached the top three last year will return to the squad. Michael Feistle, Oliver Hörauf, Felix Rogge and Thomas Steiger form the core of the team as well as local hero Reno Tiede and Stefan Hawranke who are two experienced veterans.
"We found a good formation and played as a team," Gunther said of 2018. "Both [Tiede and Hawranke] are very important to the team. In addition, Reno is an excellent joker in the pack, who is present immediately and needs no start-up time.”
On paper, Germany is currently the best team in the world after world champions Brazil.
They have experienced a rapid rise to the top: Quarter-finals at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, silver at the 2017 European Championships and of course second at the 2018 Worlds.
The goal in Rostock is therefore to impress in front of their home crowds. "We prepared very meticulously for the tournament. Of course we want to get gold at the home European Championship. That's what we'll have to be measured against.”
At the Berlin Cup a few weeks ago, the Germans met two of their four European Championship opponents. They finished first with only one defeat from eight games.
"That was a good dress rehearsal," said Günther, who then gave his players some homework: "Stay healthy, clear your head and recharge your batteries."
The mind could also play a role in Rostock.
For the first time the Germans will be seen as contenders for the title and have the added advantage of competing on home soil. It is new territory for them but the team have invested in a sport psychologist to help them through.
"He has a good relationship with the guys and we want to be as professional as possible," explains Günther.
Having already qualified for Tokyo 2020, the pressure is off: "This gives us more anticipation than tension. We look forward to the home European Championship less than a year before the Paralympics. It's going to be two great highlights."
The German women are also looking forward to the European Championships in front of their home crowd.
From a competition point of view, however, the euphoria is somewhat muted after a disappointing performance at the International Qualifier in Fort Wayne in July and the injury-related loss of regular Natascha Bretzke.
"Of course, this is a setback that we have to compensate together," said head coach Thomas Prokein. "Our big goal is to avoid relegation, but seventh place is necessary. We want to play courageously and present ourselves well. Everything else is wishful thinking and will show through the tournament."
For the ladies, the European Championship is the last chance for the Paralympics qualification. But with Turkey and Russia already qualified, third place could be good enough.
However, the team feel moving into the semi-finals is likely to be a major challenge when pitted against some of the best teams in the region.
In a recent friendly match against club side the Rostock Goalball Club Hansa, the team got used to the venue and procedures. A 5-0 win gave them a bit of confidence.
"That gave us security. Of course, at the European Championships, we expect another level. It will definitely be a great event that we will enjoy. And of course we want to be as successful as possible in sports," Prokein said.
The 2019 IBSA Goalball European Championships A will be held from 8-13 October in the Stadthalle Rostock and in the OSPA-Arena.
Ten women's and men's teams from 15 nations compete for the coveted titles.
Information about tickets can be found at www.em-rostock2019.de.