- Date: 09-10-2019
- Related to: Goalball
By Alison Thompson | For IBSA
Defending champions Lithuania are hoping to continue their return to form when they take to the court at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball European Championships A in Rostock, Germany, from Wednesday (9 October).
The team, who are also the Paralympic champions, have recently reclaimed their position as one of the main teams to beat.
Following their European title win in 2017, the side experienced a difficult period in which they subsequently failed to finish amongst the medals at the 2018 World Championships.
A change of coach and 12 months later, the team travelled to Fort Wayne, USA, in July this year where they finished with gold at the 2019 IBSA Goalball International Qualifier. That meant they tentatively secured their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
But, heading into the next major challenge, the team are not quite ready to sit back and relax.
“When you are a European champion, your goals are clear. We are determined to defend the European champions title,” Head Coach Valdas Gecevicius said. “We will need to defend the champions name, however defending a title is always harder than winning it again.”
Having been in the job just seven months, Gecevicius is keen not to change the winning formula: “We were preparing in the same way as we did before each important match.
During the preparation process, we had practices in the gym and goalball court. Also, a training camp was organised in Vilnius, where we focused on players physical training and goalball tactics.”
Rostock 2019 is not just an opportunity to top another podium but a chance to assess progress, even if the pressure is off.
“Since we have already entered the Tokyo Paralympic Games, I think our team will have less pressure and tension during the European Championships. But it does not mean that it will be easier and simpler. European Championships is the last official tournament ‘till Tokyo and our team always sets the highest goals.”
The group draw for Rostock 2019 will see Lithuania take on Sweden and Turkey as well as Greece and Ukraine in pool A.
The players have a huge amount of respect for their opponents having faced them many times before. There is therefore no room for complacency.
“It's always easier to play against a team you know, but they know us well too, but no matter who our opponents are, we will need to play seriously against each of them,” Justus Pazarauskas, a member of the Lithuanian team that took the win in Fort Wayne, said.
Gecevicius agreed: “I think Sweden and Turkey know us very well, just like we do them, and neither team has no advantage over the other. They will be highly motivated and will seek revenge. All teams participating in the European Championship are very strong, as well as our subgroup. We have played with these teams for many times. There were victories and defeats. When we played twice against Turkey team, during the qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020 in USA, each team shared a win. There is always a tough match with the Ukrainians. Also, the Greek team always plays with big energy and determination.”
For Pazarauskas, the positive results from the last few months have shown everyone that Lithuania are firmly back to challenge for titles:
“We have a lot of gaming experience, we are fighters and we can overcome the toughest challenges.”
Ten men’s and 10 women’s teams from 15 countries are going for titles in Rostock, with the added bonus of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games slots for those teams not already qualified.
The competition is being shown live on the IBSA YouTube channel and IBSA Goalball Facebook.
The 2019 IBSA Goalball European Championships Group A begin with three days of group games between 8-10 October. The quarter-finals for both men’s and women’s take place on 11 October followed by the semi-finals on 12 October.
The medal games conclude competition on Sunday 13 October.
Games will take place in two venues: The Rostock Stadthalle and OSPA Arena with Stadthalle staging the finals.