“The Paralympics are a life lesson for everyone.”
Ukraine claimed their third Paralympic title to become the football 7-a-side most decorated team ever with three golds and two silvers, making it to No. 37 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2016.
They remained undefeated throughout the tournament, winning their five games, scoring 14 goals and conceding just three. Ukraine subsequently beat Ireland 6-0, Great Britain 2-1 and Brazil 2-1 to finish top of Group A.
In the semi-finals, they achieved a win over the Netherlands 4-0, followed by a victory against Iran 2-1 in the gold-medal match. Extra-time was needed to determine the Paralympic champions, with Ukraine taking the title thanks to a goal scored by Artem Krasylnykov with 15 minutes to go.
As football 7-a-side will not be included in Tokyo 2020’s sporting programme, this was a unique opportunity for Ukraine to overtake the Netherlands as the country with more Paralympic gold medals in the sport.
“I am unlimitedly happy now. We showed what we can do", said Ukraine's Taras Dutko. “I want to thank all the Brazilian people because they are amazing and they made our competition unforgettable.”
Coach Serhii Ovcharenko added: “Final matches are always difficult and the one against Iran was not the exception. We studied them prior to the final.
“A key thing was that nine of the Ukrainian players had never won a Paralympic title before so they had the strong desire to seal it in Rio.
“The most important game was the one against Great Britain in the pool stage. Thanks to that hard-fought victory, we secured a place in the semi-finals and it was also important because it gave the players a mental boost ahead of the following games.”
Captain Volodymyr Antoniuk said that Ukraine players’ “extraordinary skills and experience” is what made winning gold possible.
“As for me, I believe the match against Brazil was the most difficult one because they had a strong support from their fans and we were still not fully adjusted to the time difference,” he said.
“Besides, Brazil were seeking only a draw to finish top of the group and we needed to win in order to face a less powerful team in the semi-finals.”
After sealing two bronzes at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Iran rounded off their best performance ever in Rio, whilst the home crowd could celebrate Brazil’s return to the podium after 12 years following their 3-1 win over the Netherlands in the bronze-medal match.
Brazilian football legend Cafu attended the event as a Paralympic medal presenter at the Deodoro stadium, where the football 7 competition took place.
“I loved all the Paralympic sports. The Paralympics are a life lesson for everyone,” he said. “It is an immense honour to be a Paralympic medal presenter, and I think it is good also for athletes to have an unexpected person, maybe a hero for them, giving them their medals.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.