Brazil overcome defending champions Lithuania for goalball final spot
Date: September 2, 2021
Brazil comfortably saw off defending champions Lithuania 9-5 to reach their second final in three Games with a commanding second half performance at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Thursday (2 September).
Leading just 3-2 at the break, Brazil ran away with it to beat the defending champions for the second time in Tokyo, having comfortably eased past them 11-2 in the group stage.
Leomon Moreno and Josemarcio Sousa showed their prowess by scoring eight goals between them in this latest display, to continue an outstanding run from the 2012 silver and 2016 bronze medallists who have netted at least six times in every match.
They will face China in the final, hoping for a better display than the 2012 final which saw them lose 8-1 to Finland.
Moreno said: “I’ve been with the national team for five years now so winning the gold medal would be a great reward, I’m concentrating fully on that as we will have to play our best.”
Lithuania will face the USA in the bronze medal match, a repeat of the final from five years ago, where veteran Genrik Pavliukianec will be aiming to match the record medal tally of four by the USA’s Jen Armbruster.
Pavliukianec says the experience in the team is key to bouncing back against the USA.
“We have an experienced team with five of our six players who have competed before at this level but we need to make sure we do our job.”
They have again been foiled by Brazil in their bid to reach successive finals, having also lost to them at this stage in 2012 having picked up a silver in 2008.
Rio 2016 bronze medallists the USA reached a first women’s final since 2008 as they beat Brazil 3-2 on overthrows in a dramatic semi-final.
Having trailed 2-0 at half-time a late Amanda Dennis double, the second goal coming fifteen seconds from time, brought the game into overtime where still the sides could not be separated. After Katia Silva missed for Brazil, Mindy Cook, who had not featured in the match, saved from Ana Gabriely Assuncao Brito to seal a remarkable win.
They had also seen off the same opposition in the bronze medal match five years ago. The result means Asya Miller and Lisa Czechowski will match fellow countrywoman Jen Armbruster’s record tally of four Paralympic medals having also won silver at Athens 2004 and gold at Beijing 2008.
Aysa Miller admitted that the team do love to make things difficult for themselves, having also come back for a two-goal deficit to beat the RPC in the quarter-finals.
“My teammates may hate me for it but I do love a good shootout! We’ve had this trend of coming back from behind and not a lot of teams can deal with it as they lose mental focus and it seems like we have a bit of an obsession with it at the moment!”
She also highlighted the togetherness in the team helping to achieve results like this.
“We have such great chemistry and cohesion in the team, as we train so much together and we click on and off the court.”
For Brazil, they suffered a second successive semi-final defeat, having lost to China five years ago but will be looking to claim a second consecutive bronze medal when they play Japan. They last faced Japan in the knockout stages in the 2012 quarter-final, losing 2-0.
Beijing 2008 gold medalists China produced a surprise 8-1 victory over Rio 2016 silver medallists the USA to reach a first final since they took the title in the other men’s semi-final.
In a repeat of the semi-final from 13 years ago, it was an impressive defensive display from China as well as talisman Mingyaun Yang scoring six goals to bring his tally to 24.
They will face Brazil in the showpiece, a repeat of their victory on home soil, with Liangliang Chen and Changgui Cao remaining from the historic triumph. They will be hoping to beat a Brazil side who knocked them out in the quarter-finals five years ago.
Liangliang Chen was understandably happy with his team’s performance.
“We are very satisfied as we played very well and our defense was the key and it was great to beat them in the semi-final like we did in 2008.”
This Games will be the last for him and Changgui Cao and the latter admitted that a Paralympic final is the perfect way to bow out.
“It’s our last Games, (we) just want to give ourselves something nice to go out with.”
For the USA, they failed in their bid to reach consecutive Paralympic finals for the second time, having previously made three straight finals from 1980.
They can still extend their record medal tally to six when they face Lithuania in the bronze medal match.
John Kusku insisted that despite the scoreline his teammates never gave up and stopped believing they could turn it around.
“We went up early but then we couldn’tt keep the ball out and it’s difficult to win a goalball match if you can’t do that but I don’t really think the game ever got away from us, as I always believe in myself and my team.”
Some may see a gold medal as the only prize but for Kusku he will treat the bronze medal match like any other and is proud that he can share the moment with his teammates.
“I’m not sure if I care more about winning the medal or winning with my mates. The strongest part of this team is the support for one another.”
The Turkish women remain on course to be the first side since Canada in 2004 to defend their Paralympic title after beating Japan 8-5 in one of the games of the tournament.
Star scorer Sevda Altunoluk scored all eight goals as they will face USA in the final for a chance to match Canada’s feat, having seen off China in the gold medal match five years ago.
During their run, they have had close victories against Brazil and Australia while losing by one goal to the USA and Altunoluk believes these matches have helped the team.
“Both teams in the other semi-final are good and whoever we play we will have a tough game but we have played hard matches throughout the tournament against some good opponents and each time it makes us stronger.”
For hosts Japan, they were unable to reach a first final since 2012 but they will face Brazil in the bronze medal match. Brazil will be their first meeting since beating them in the 2012 quarter-finals.
Having lost to Turkey 7-1 in the group stage, it was an improved performance from Japan which Rieko Takahashi says was important and helped her performance.
“The analyst did a good job of helping us study the last match against them and we did a good job this time with our defensive line, moving up and down at the right time.
“I felt like I didn’t play well in the first match but I prepared better this time especially in defense but obviously there is a lot of disappointment in the team.”
The men’s and women’s medal matches will take place on Friday (3 September).
By Sam Harris | for IBSA