Finland face tough task in defending Paralympic title

The men’s goalball team won gold at London 2012 but followed up with double-silvers at the World and European Championships. 29 Sep 2015
Erkki Miinala

Erkki Miinala

ⒸMaiju Torvinen
By Rosanna Haroutounian | For the IPC

“The most important thing is to try to enjoy of every second in this unique atmosphere, because you are in a privileged position when you've got a chance to play in the Paralympic Games.”

Finland’s men’s goalball team will look to defend their Paralympic title but know they have much work to do with under a year to go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The London 2012 gold medallists took runner-up finishes at the 2014 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Championships and the 2015 IBSA Goalball European Championships A in July.

“We have done huge work for it [the London 2012 gold medal], and we have now a huge motivation to brighten silver to gold at the Rio Paralympic Games,” said Erkki Miinala, who was part of the team in London 2012.

“The Paralympic Games are the most important tournament for a goalball player, and winning the gold medal in the Paralympic Games is every goalball player's biggest dream,” Miinala said. “They are very special Games for us, because we get a lot of more coverage in the media than usual and also we get much more financial resources to prepare for the Paralympic Games.”

Finland qualified for Rio 2016 after winning silver at the World Championships in Espoo, where they took a tough 9-1 defeat on home court against their London 2012 rivals Brazil. They took silver again after a close 9-8 loss to Turkey in the European Championships. Men’s teams from Lithuania, China, Sweden, the USA and Canada will join Finland, Brazil and Turkey at Rio 2016.

Miinala said the Finnish men are preparing to meet Brazil again by building a tough defence, something that helped them take the 8-1 victory at London.

“I believe that Brazil will be really, really strong in the Rio Paralympic Games, because they have huge resources to prepare for the tournament like the professionals,” said Miinala, who will compete in his second Paralympics.

“The best example of our solid team defence was the London Paralympic Games, where our opponents made only three goals on our net in the last four matches,” he said. “Of course we will also focus on developing our offence, so we get sharper and more powerful throws in every match during the Rio Paralympics”

Miinala helped the Finnish team win gold at the 2011 IBSA European Championships A in Denmark and the 2011 IBSA World Games in Turkey.

Although he missed July’s European Championships due to a back injury, he has been working to return to form and, hopefully, another Paralympic title.

“I will put my focus on defence, because my back injury has made some problems in my defence, so I want to fix them and once again be the best defending center player in the world,” he said.

Two more continental qualifiers and the results of May’s IBSA World Games in Seoul, South Korea, will decide the remaining two men and women’s spots. The 2015 IBSA Asia/Pacific Goalball Championships will be held in 5-13 November in Hangzhou, China, followed by the African Championships on 20-30 November in Algeria.

So far, the women’s goalball teams from Canada, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, USA, Israel and China are confirmed for Rio.

“The most important thing is to try to enjoy of every second in this unique atmosphere, because you are in a privileged position when you've got a chance to play in the Paralympic Games,” Miinala said. “Personally, I love to play in front of a big audience, because I get more power from enthusiastic and supportive people, and I'm a show man. I catch fire giving my best, when I'm backed against the wall.”