Finland will be looking to succeed on home soil as they play host to the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships in Espoo from 30 June5 July. Expectations will be heavy for the men’s London 2012 Paralympic champions, but history is against them, with the host nation only winning the World Championship title once - USA in 1982.
Meanwhile in the women’s tournament, reigning world champions China will be looking to defend their title away from Paralympic champions Japan and the USA, who many feel could threaten.
The stakes are high heading into the tournament, as the top three nations will also be the first to book their place at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
In the men’s tournament, Pool A looks like it will be a closely fought contest, with many of the big nations battling it out.
Hosts Finland has been drawn against two regional champions in Algeria – the current African champions and Iran – the Asia/Pacific champions. They will also face the USA, Spain, Germany, Ukraine and Czech Republic - a side that has defeated the reigning Paralympic champions many times over recent years.
Meanwhile in Pool B, double defending world champions Lithuania will be favourites, but will also have a tough battle on their hands against the likes of Canada – the Americas regional champions, and Brazil – Paralympic finalists from two years ago. Also looking to progress from this pool are Egypt, Belgium, Japan and China – Paralympic champions at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
Speaking to the Organising Committee about his country’s chances of adding the World Championship title to their Paralympic gold, Finland’s star player Erkki Miinala said he expects some surprise results along the way.
He said: “Countries from Europe and North America used to be in charge in goalball but nowadays there are countries from Asia, South America and even from Africa that are capable of winning.
“In my opinion, Lithuania and Czech Republic have been the most impressive teams in men’s goalball lately. But Brazil, Iran, Algeria, Spain, USA and Turkey all have what it takes.”
In the women’s tournament, 12 teams will battle it out for the top prize, with the top four teams from each pool heading through to the quarter finals.
Pool X looks tricky, with Paralympic champions Japan being drawn against European champions Russia and Americas champions the USA. They will also face hosts Finland, Germany and Turkey, who are competing at the World Championships for the first time.
Meanwhile in Pool Y, China will start their world championship defense against Israel, Ukraine, Sweden, Australia and upcoming 2016 Paralympic hosts Brazil.
Finland’s Katja Heikkinen expects the conditions of the court to play a major factor for whoever is successful.
She said: “China is definitely a top contender in the World Championships. Japanese players are small but their defense is rock solid.
“The floor was very slow in London. It’s quite the opposite from what we have in Espoo: a hard and fast wooden floor. It benefits hard throwing teams such as China, USA, Turkey, Israel and us.”
Follow the action
The action is getting underway from Monday (30 June) every day at 9.00am local time, with every match from Sport Hall Tapiola (Hall A) in 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships broadcasted live via the Finnish National Television (YLE) sport website Fans can access the correct stream on the YLE website by looking for the word “Maalipallo” (he word for goalball in Finnish).Alternatively, you can click on one of the below links for that days play:
Monday 30th June from 9.00 to 20.00 (in Finnish time)
Tuesday 1st July from 9.00 to 20.00
Wednesday 2nd July from 9.00 to 19.00
Thursday 3rd July from 9.00 to 20.00
Friday 4th July from 11.00 to 19.00
Saturday 5th July from 9.20 to 15.00
For the full competition schedule and results, visit the official website of the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships in Espoo www.goalball2014.fi
.The latest news, interviews and more will also be on this page.
On social media you can also find updated results and see some pics on Facebook at www.facebook.com/goalball2014. For those who prefer Twitter, you can follow the World Championships @goalballchamps. The official #tag for the tournament is #goalballWC2014.