Japan goalball claim semi-final place at Tokyo 2020
Date: September 1, 2021
London 2012 gold medallists and Tokyo 2020 hosts Japan reached their first goalball semi-final since claiming the Paralympic title on Wednesday (1 September), as the next thrilling round of the women’s competition was decided.
Japan overcame Israel 4-1 with Norika Hagiwara scoring all four goals.
Having lost at this stage five years ago, to Asian rivals China, Kyoichi Ichikawa’s side will be hoping for a repeat of nine years ago where they went all the way and claimed a maiden Paralympic gold.
They face a rematch against Turkey, who beat them 7-1 in the group stage, But they go into the semi-final off the back of three consecutive victories, including beating the 2016 bronze medalists the USA.
Rie Urata admitted they needed to make amends for that poor result and had to tighten up their defense especially.
“The first game against Turkey we made a lot of mistakes but we have improved since and our defense is very important and we also need to take our chances.”
Losing in the quarter-finals for the second successive Games, it is a hurdle Raz Shoham’s side cannot clear but they can look back on an impressive group stage which saw them finish second behind Rio 2016 silver medallists China, finishing as the pool’s top scorers.
Rio 2016 gold medalists Turkey kept their hopes of defending their title alive by beating Australia 10-6 with Sevda Altunoluk scoring eight times.
It was an impressive performance from Osman Karali’s side as they booked a semi-final encounter with Japan. They set the tone by scoring with the first shot of the match and adding six more in a commanding opening period.
Their star player Altunoluk took her tally to 29 goals but paid credit to her teammates, all who are competing at their first Games.
“They heard of our story, winning the gold medal and we talk about it every day so they are very encouraged and want to win the gold.”
She also praised Australia’s threat and their growth within the sport.
“It was a really tough game. They are in the quarterfinals where no games are easy. They fought really well.
“Australia are improving day-by-day. We saw their improvement during the match – last time we played them it was much easier, so we congratulate them.”
For Australia, their outstanding run, which saw them beat world champions the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC), comes to an end but they leave with their heads held high after they reached the knock-out stages for the first time.
For Tyan Taylor, the tournament had already been a success by getting to this stage and believes they have a strong future in the sport.
“We’ve been dreaming of reaching the quarter-finals for a long time and we couldn’t have enjoyed it any more. You can look out for the Aussie Belles in future Paralympic Games, we’re not done here.”
She also noted the support they had in the limited crowd, something that can make all the difference in these situations.
“Walking out today and seeing the Aussie flag there and a lot of supporters boosted us up even further.
“We can’t thank the support more. We’re definitely feeling it from home as well, so a shout out to everyone for constantly supporting us throughout this campaign.
“There’s so much enthusiasm, so much more education around what goalball is. We couldn’t be more thankful for that.”
Brodie Smith, scorer of the Belles’ second goal, is already looking to the future with the 2032 Games being held in her home country.
“We’ve got the Paralympics in 2032 and we’ve got a programme back home that we will keep building in those eleven years. This has been us stepping up and working together and executing what we’ve been training for the last five years.”
Brazil shocked China 1-0 with an overtime penalty from Ana Carolina Duarte to reach their second Paralympics semi-final.
In a tight affair, both teams produced an impressive defensive showing with the match not settled until the second period of overtime. China’s Xiling Zhang conceded the game’s only penalty, giving Duarte the chance to produce her Brazilian Special to seal a dramatic win.
The result saw them earn revenge after losing to the same opponents in the last four at Rio 2016 and they had also lost to Japan at this stage in 2012.
Ana Gabriely Assuncao Brito admitted how their game plan was to play it safe and not to give their opponents cheap shots.
“Our objective was not to make any errors and give them any opportunities from penalties to give us the best chance of winning.
Her coach Dailton Nascimento echoed those thoughts, emphasising the mental side of the game.
“It was a very tough game mentally as we had to maintain good concentration which was key and we expected a tight, close game. We got revenge for losing the semi-final in Rio so we are very happy.”
For China, the heartbreaking result ends their flawless record in the last eight, having previously won the group to progress to the semi-finals in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
China’s Zhenhua Cao admitted that the pressure of such a big game affected her performance.
“There was a lot of pressure on the game and I couldn’t play my best so when we get home I will have to watch the game again and see where I made mistakes and practise more.”
Rio 2016 bronze medalists the USA reached a second consecutive semi-final after beating the RPC 5-3 as Eliana Mason scored a hat-trick on her birthday.
After an entertaining opening period, they trailed 3-2 at the break before a superb second half with Mason’s third and an Amanda Dennis brace completed the turnaround.
Serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ at full time, Mason said she could not have asked for a better way to celebrate.
“I said this morning, the only gift I want is for us to win. It’s so nice that the men’s team came to support us and it’s awesome to hear them.
“We have a great bond with the men’s team and we really feed off each other’s energy.”
It has been an outstanding tournament so far from Jake Czechowski’s side with wins against Turkey, Brazil and Egypt, with the second-best defensive record in the competition, conceding just 12 goals.
Their reward is a meeting with Brazil, who they beat 3-2 in the bronze medal match four years ago to win their third medal in four Games. However they also lost to Brazil 6-4 in the group stage.
Mason believes the match could be an impressive one – their second meeting of the Games.
“We already played them for the first game of the tournament and we’ve played them a lot in the Parapan American and it’s always a great time when we played Brazil.”
For the RPC, it has been a strong debut Games, claiming a famous victory over three-time silver medalists China in the group stage as they have built on their 2018 World Championships win.