The 2019 Goalball European Championships Group A action get underway in Rostock, Germany, on Tuesday (8 October), featuring the region’s best teams.
Ten men’s and 10 women’s teams from 15 countries will be vying for the top honours, with the added bonus of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games slots for those teams who are yet to qualify.
Hosts Germany starts as firm favourite in the men’s category and it will be test for the rest of the teams as the former will have plenty of home support.
The team secured silver, and a Tokyo 2020 berth, at the 2018 World Championships. Their line-up remains unchanged since that performance. Michael Feistle, Oliver Hörauf, Felix Rogge and Thomas Steiger as well as local hero Reno Tiede and Stefan Hawranke form Germany’s super six.
Head Coach Johannes Gunther speaking about the challenge said, “We are proud of our results since Rio 2016 [Paralympics].
Compared to other nations in Europe, our team and especially our starting three is very young, so we can say that we are stronger than 2018.
“Most teams in Europe have only one or two scorers in their team. In our team we have four-five players who are able to score some goals in a Championship game.”
The group are also aiming to improve on their silver medal from the last Euros in Pajulahti, Finland, in 2017.
Germany are in Group B with Worlds and defending European bronze medallists Belgium.
Also, in Group ‘B’ are Czech Republic, a team determined to make the most of the competition after just missing out on the final at the 2019 International Qualifier in Fort Wayne, USA, in July.
Rounding off the group are 2011 champions Finland and Spain.
Group ‘A’ features reigning Paralympic and European champions Lithuania, who are on the march after a successful 2019 season. The team topped the podium at the 2019 International qualifier, returning to form just in time following a fourth-place finish at the Worlds.
Turkey were the side who lost out to the Lithuanians in Fort Wayne, but it was their first defeat having sailed through to the group and knock-out stages unbeaten. Ukraine will also be making their opponents nervous in Group ‘A’.
Sweden are still searching for their ticket to Tokyo and will be trying to put a difficult qualification period behind them. But, the team have a storied history of four Paralympic medals to their name and a huge amount of experience in their side. Completing Group A are Greece.
Headlining Group X are World and European champions Russia, who will make their Paralympic debut in 2020.
The team have also finished on the podium at every single Euros since 2011. They will benefit from the presence of many of their experienced players, including Irina Arestova who was the second top scorer at the 2018 Worlds.
Russia will meet Greece, Denmark, Ukraine and Finland during the group stages.
The German women feature in a tough draw in Pool Y. Stefanie Behrens, Annkathrin Denker, Charlotte Hartz and Pia Knaute will represent the hosts.
Paralympic champions and Worlds silver medallists Turkey will try to avenge a second-place finish from 2017 to Russia if they get out of their group. Helping them will be Sevda Altunoluk who left the 2018 Worlds as the Top Scorer across the men’s and women’s competition with 46 goals.
Israel will also be very tough to beat with a series of players able to deliver incredibly high-powered and technical attacks. Great Britain and Netherlands round off pool Y.
Games will take place in two venues: The Rostock Stadthalle and OSPA Arena with the former staging the finals.
The competition will be shown live on the IBSA YouTube channel and IBSA Goalball Facebook.
The schedule and results can be found at http://em-rostock2019.de/schedule.html as well as ticket information.
For some teams it is their last chance to qualify for the Paralympics while others enter more relaxed.