Goalball men’s semi-final match-ups decided at Tokyo 2020
Date: August 31, 2021
Rio 2016 silver medallists the USA earned a place in a third consecutive semi-final after claiming a remarkable overtime victory in a thrilling game against Ukraine at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Tuesday (31 August).
Despite being 4-1 down early in the second half, Keith Young’s side turned it around with his namesake, Calahan Young, grabbing a second half hat-trick to bring the score level.
As the game went to overtime, Young was once again the hero as he scored with the first throw of extra time to hand his team the dramatic win and send them into raptures.
Matt Simpson had given the USA an early lead before saving a penalty from Rodion Zhyhalin and said it showed they had done their homework on their opponents.
“We had a good plan, we had scouted them well and we knew what their strategy was on penalties and when you had good coaching and good play, execution comes.”
Despite facing a two-goal half-time deficit, the USA number seven still believed they could turn it around.
“I said to the boys at half-time, if we play like we did in the first half we will win as in the first half a couple of things went their way and in the second half, a couple of things went our way.”
Ukraine paid the price for missing three penalties, with Zhyhalin twice failing to hit the target as their maiden Paralympics came to a disappointing end.
However, they can take encouragement from their group stage performances which saw them advance to the quarter-finals, including a win over European champions Germany. Three years ago Ukraine did not even play top flight goalball, only reaching promotion to group A in 2018.
The USA will play China for a place in the final after the Asia-Pacific champions reached their first semi-final since they hosted the Beijing Paralympics in 2008.
China broke Japanese hearts by beating the hosts 7-4 as six goals from super-scorer Mingyuan Yang peppered the Japanese net.
A flawless first half saw them lead by four goals at the break with Yang netting a hat-trick before they held off a second half Japan fightback.
They had lost at this stage in the last two Games, to Brazil in 2016 and Lithuania in 2012, but will now be looking to repeat their run on home soil 13 years ago when they claimed gold.
His country’s top scorer at the Games with 18 goals, Yang said they had improved as the competition progressed.
“As it went on, we got used to the bounce of the ball and the conditions of the court and we will have to try our best and fight well in the semi-final.”
Reaching the quarter-finals on their debut is an impressive achievement for Japan especially having previously secured famous victories over reigning champions Lithuania and silver medallists the USA in the group stage.
Their key winger Yuto Sano caught the eye through the competition but admitted another star in Yang just had too much:
“In the second half, Yang caught us by surprise as we were expecting his bouncing shots but he threw some low efforts instead and we didn’t respond to that quickly enough.”
He paid tribute to the locals on staging the event, especially after the extra effort bought on by the pandemic.
“I really appreciate the people getting involved in the Games going ahead, especially in this COVID crisis, so I have to say a particular thank you to all the volunteers and support staff.”
Against a Chinese side who only progressed by winning their final group game, the USA will be hoping to avenge a 4-0 loss at the same stage in 2008.
Lithuania remained on course to retain their Paralympic title after overcoming Belgium 7-4 with four goals from veteran Genrik Pavliukianec.
The damage was done in an outstanding first half display where they led 6-2 against a Belgium side who had the best defensive record in the competition and had not conceded more than four goals in a match.
They will play Brazil in the last four, who beat them 7-6 in the 2018 World Championship semi-final, having scored 20 times in their last two matches.
Although they had only claimed one win in the group stage, Lithuania’s Marius Zibolis insisted confidence was never a problem.
“Every win gives us confidence, but we just needed time to acclimatise at the start and get used to the different conditions here, with the wet field.”
It was a disappointing end to what started as a promising tournament for Belgium, winning their first two matches. However this was a third consecutive defeat, having been beaten by Germany and Ukraine in the group.
Rob Eijssen insists they will learn from this and still can be proud of their efforts.
“It was a difficult match and our defence wasn’t as strong as other matches but we still had a good tournament and we found out we have some good players.”
Rio 2016 bronze medallists Brazil reached a second successive semi-final after beating Turkey 9-4 in an entertaining encounter in the final match of the day.
They started like a team who had won their previous two matches, showing the attacking prowess that sees them boast the best attack in the competition.
A repeat of their London 2012 semi-final with Lithuania, which they won 2-1, is their reward.
Leomon Moreno scored six goals but his side’s all-round display was the most pleasing aspect.
“We defended great in the first half and adjusted our strategy in the second half when Turkey played higher balls and we took advantage of their mistakes from penalties.”
It was a disappointing defensive showing from Turkey who had kept a clean sheet against Ukraine in their last match. They left themselves too much to do after the worst possible first half.
Okan Tekin Duzgun admitted that the opening 12 minutes was disappointing especially as they are renowned for their strong defence.
“We had a lack of concentration during the early stages and we weren’t as focused as we were against Ukraine and actually being more motivated for this game didn’t help us.”
By Sam Harris | For IBSA