Lithuania has taken out their second international friendly goalball tournament in just as many weeks. This time it was the field at the PaPa Champs in Blankenberge, Belgium, that they moved aside.
The PaPa Champs is a friendly international tournament for male teams. Many teams are using this as a warm up tournament for the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships.
Every match has been important for participating teams due to it being played in a single round robin format and the winner being declared at the end of this. This means that one loss or draw could result in teams losing valuable tournament ranking points.
This led to some extraordinarily high quality matches with teams giving it all.
One such example was the day one match between Finland (current Paralympic champions) and Lithuania (current world champions). This match was played with the fire and passion of a Paralympic final. Lithuania took the early lead in this match and was leading by a handful of goals. However, Finland chipped back at them and finally equalized and claimed the lead. After a few exchanges of the lead it was 11-11 with seconds to go. However, no memorable match is without its dramas and this match had that. With seconds to go, Lithuania was able to capitalize on a controversial penalty. Directly following this Finland threw another highball but this penalty was saved. Disappointingly for the Finnish team, they were unable to save the match in the dying seconds and Lithuania walked away with the win.
“Sometimes it feels like we are playing for the audience” joked one of the Lithuanian team members Mantas Brazauskis following the tournament.
Even though they walked away as tournament winners, it was felt that they did not play at their best.
“It hasn’t been a great tournament but a good one” stated Brazauskis. “Three days of this tournament we have had three different days” he continued referring to their lack of consistency.
Defense is one such area where Brazauskis knows himself that he needs to improve on.
“Personally I have let in a lot of balls”.
So even after three weeks on the road and a lot of success even the team that many view as the almighty Lithuania know that they need to continue to work very hard if they are to defend their World Championship title:
“We are preparing very hard.” Finished Brazauskis.
Sadly the loss to Lithuania wasn’t the only disappointing loss for Finland. On day two they met the motivated USA team. These teams also played in Lithuania against each other. There Finland lost by one goal and history repeated itself again. The match stayed at 1-1 for a long time but after this, when one team scored, the other responded. Finally the USA was able to hold their lead and won 4-3.
This was not the only tight match that Finland was involved in. Their match against Algeria was also a good one. Algeria took the early lead and was up 3-0 in the first half. However, the Finns were not about to roll over. They slowly chopped away at Algeria’s lead and the match concluded with a 3-3 score line.
Finnish player Eki Miinala puts lack of focus and strategy down as the reason for these results and their eventual fourth place at the tournament.
“We must get stronger in our team defense. We must help each other more and keep the focus better in the defense throughout the game, so we don't make personal defense mistakes. Of course we must make less offensive mistakes because there are very good penalty throwers at the top. Our opponents didn't give us many chances to make goals from penalties. Maybe we were too careful in our attacks and we waited too long until we began to attack as well as we can.”
“The distance between the top teams is very close.” Concluded Miinala.
This final statement by Miinala was very true because honestly said; the tournament was quite full of come-backs and close results.
The USA had a disappointing week last week in Lithuania but they were able to turn it around this weekend as explained by their coach Mike Lege:
“This weekend was very satisfying. After all the problems that we had last weekend, it was very good to have the results that we had this weekend”.
In Lithuania the USA lost 3-7 to Algeria. During their match against them this weekend they were leading for 22 of the 24 minutes but it was those last two minutes when Algeria equalized and the match ended up as a 4-4 draw. Certainly from their perspective this would be viewed as an improvement on the tournament prior to this one. In the end the USA placed second in Belgium. An improvement on their sixth place in Lithuania.
Day three started with a thriller between Lithuania and Algeria. This was important because it was going to influence the end result. Lithuania took the early lead and within a number of minutes were leading 3-0. Algeria started pulling back and despite Lithuania keeping their nose in front most of the half, the two teams went to the half tied at 5-5. Lithuania took first blood in the second half but this time Algeria were able to not only hit back but also take the lead 7-6. The Lithuanians did a lot of substitutions and took a lot of time outs at the end to try and break the match up. The very last one worked because there was three seconds on the clock and they threw and the ball went in the goal on the buzzer.
Algeria ended up placing third in the tournament. However this was considered a good result as explained by one of the players, Abdelhalim Larbi:
“I think this is a good result. We have two players that aren’t here so this is a good result.”
Fifth place went to the host nation, Belgium. They suffered some big losses during the tournament but also had some encouraging results as explained by player Bruno Vanhove:
“It’s our first preparation tournament. It wasn’t that good. We hoped for better and we didn’t play that good in our first few games but the game against Finland gave us hope, extra motivation and team spirit so in the end we are glad we played that good game. In the end this was our first preparation tournament and it gave us some stuff that we need to work on.
The match between Belgium and Finland was certainly a close one but this time Finland came back from behind and took the three points.
The Belgians also played very well against Lithuania and had even sprinted out to a 3-0 lead at the start of the match.
The final two spots went to Russia and the Netherlands respectively. Even though the gap between these two teams and the other five was quite large the players from these teams still got a lot out of their matches as explained by Dutch coach Bas Spaans:
“None of our players have ever played against opponents of this standard. Playing against these teams has given them motivation to train really hard to try and make it to the top.”
The next preparation tournament is the 9th international tournament for men to be held in Izola, Slovenia. Ten teams will compete here for the title.
Friday 2nd of May
9:00 USA Russia 7-4
10:00 Belgium Algeria 7-11
11:00 Netherlands Finland 4-12
12:00 Lithuania USA 9-4
13:00 Russia Belgium 5-11
14:00 Algeria Netherlands 10-0
15:00 Finland Lithuania 11-12
16:00 USA Belgium 13-3
Saturday 3rd of May
9:00 Algeria Finland 3-3
10:00 Netherlands Lithuania 3-13
11:00 Russia Algeria 4-14
12:00 Finland USA 3-4
13:00 Belgium Netherlands 10-5
14:00 Lithuania Russia 14-4
15:00 USA Algeria 4-4
16:00 Belgium Finland 5-6
17:00 Russia Netherlands 9-1
Sunday 4th of May
9:00 Algeria Lithuania 7-7
10:00 Netherlands USA 1-11
11:00 Finland Russia 13-6
12:00 Lithuania Belgium 12-8