“Now we will relax a little bit and then we start to prepare for the European Championships"
The USA women’s team, propelled by a home crowd, qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games along with China. Meanwhile Paralympic champions Lithuania joined Turkey to secure Paralympic berths on the men’s side at the 2019 IBSA Goalball International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA.
The gold medal matches were played Tuesday (9 July) in front of the largest crowds of the tournament and the atmosphere was thick with anticipation. The women’s competition featured a showdown between the USA and China, both already having secured their spots in Tokyo by making the final.
The two teams are strong rivals, China finished second at the last Paralympics, the USA was third.
On Tuesday, in a tight low-scoring affair, China prevailed 5-3 to take the gold.
Still Lisa Czechowski,one of the USA goal scorers, was pleased with her team’s accomplishment in Fort Wayne.
“I thought our team played a really great tournament. We followed our game plan defensively and we accomplished one of our main goals, and that was to qualify for Tokyo next year,” Czechowski said.
She added: “We’re really proud of our performance and so grateful for all the support we received from the community of Fort Wayne who have just made the environment so positive and the energy in the room was just awesome.”
Israel, which had one of the best defensive efforts, defeated Australia 12-2 to take the bronze but just missed out on their chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Lithuanian men look to defend their Paralympic title
On the men’s side, both Lithuania and Turkey came into Tuesday’s gold medal match on quite a high note, having already qualified for Tokyo 2020.
Lithuania will now have the chance to repeat as Paralympic champions after rebounding in Fort Wayne from a disappointing fourth place finish at the 2018 World Championships.
The gold medal final was action packed and full of penalties.
There were three penalties in the opening minutes of the game and that led to two goals.
Lithuania’s Mantas Panovas scored four goals and was awarded the men’s Top Scorer award for his efforts in bringing his team the gold medal.
Another member of the Lithuanian team, Marius Ziibolis, was full of emotions after the victory.
“Now we will relax a little bit and then we start to prepare for the European Championships [in Rostock, Germany, in [October] because last time we were first and we need to keep it that way,” he said.
China overcame Czech Republic in the men’s bronze medal battle.
After the game, one of the Chinese coaches said it was tough not getting the result they wanted in Fort Wayne.
“Our major goal was to come here and get the qualification for Tokyo so it’s a pity but we could not go to the finals. We will continue to fight and train and we have another competition in Chiba [the 2019 IBSA Goalball Asian and Oceania Championships] at the end of the year.”
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier featured 13 women’s teams and 14 men’s teams.
All games can be re-watched at IBSA's YouTube channel.