“We are aiming to win a medal at the EC2015. I'm very trustful of our team and that we will find our way to the top.”
After securing qualification for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games with a silver medal at last year’s World Championships, Finland’s men’s goalball team are targeting yet another medal at July’s European Championships in Lithuania.
Securing their spots for Rio was bittersweet for the Paralympic champions. After reaching the World Championships final on home soil in Espoo, they lost 9-1 against Brazil in a replay of the London 2012 gold medal match.
Despite the team’s loss, Finland’s star player Erkki Miinala scored 24 goals, earning him a Most Valuable Player nomination.
Miinala said the team has learned a lot from their 2014 experiences and has set goals for itself in the year leading up to the Rio Paralympics. Among them, adding new players to the team and winning a medal at the European Championships.
“Two of our experienced players, captain Petri Posio and Toni Alenius, retired after the World Championships, so we must develop the new guys to play at the high international level,” said the 28-year-old.
Three international competitions this spring, together with five training camps, will give the team plenty of opportunities to practice ahead of the European Championships.
“We must develop our team defence, get more powerful and sharper throws, and learn to communicate better in different situations,” said Miinala. He added that the decision of Timo Laitinen and Kevin Collet to continue coaching the team at the Rio Paralympic Games is also advantageous to the team’s future.
Having already secured their spots for Rio, Miinala said the team can focus on maintaining their standing in the A-division at the European Championships. In 2013, Lithuania defeated Finland in the quarter-finals and ultimately won gold.
“We are aiming to win a medal at the EC2015. I'm very trustful of our team and that we will find our way to the top,” said Miinala, who believes regular training in Helsinki, where most of the players live, is one of the team’s secrets to success.
“My aim is to be the best centre player in the world, so I must develop my defence,” said Miinala of his personal goals. “‘Less throws, more goals,’ is my philosophy in attacking.”
Finland will begin international competition in April at the Malmo Men’s Inter-Cup, followed soon after by the Great Vilnius Lions Cup in Lithuania. They will then compete in early June’s Parantee Paralympic Championships in Blankenberge, Belgium.
Following last year’s World Championships, the US men’s and women’s team also qualified for Rio 2016, along with the women’s teams from Russia and Turkey.
Brazil’s men’s team qualified as a result of their world title win, forfeiting their host-nation spot in the goalball competition. That extra spot, as well as the six remaining men’s spots, will be decided by December 2015.
Brazil’s women’s goalball team took part in the World Championships but did not finish in the qualification positions. They do however qualify for Rio 2016 as host nation. Six more women’s teams will earn spots by the end of the year.
The IBSA Goalball European Championships will take place in Kaunas, Lithuania, between 5-12 July.