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Aug 11 2023

Goalball: the best Championship ever held

The quarterfinals of goalball are known. The Netherlands won convincingly against Azerbaijan 9-5 on Friday and later had to acknowledge its superiority to Spain: 8-5. Saturday afternoon the Netherlands will take on Sweden for a spot in the top four. We spoke with several countries during the European Para Championships about their experiences during this tournament.

For example, Kamran Aliyev, a staff member of Azerbaijan, told us after the defeat against the Netherlands that it will be a tough task to compete for prizes in Rotterdam. ”We don’t play many big tournaments and are really just starting at this level. It’s great to be here and the crowd is fantastic. We are learning a lot from the big countries like France and ultimately hope that the best one gets to win.”

‘Handball player of the century’

With Sweden, an absolute legend sits on the bench as national coach: Magnus Wislander. He won gold with Sweden’s handball team four times at the ’94, ’98, ’00 and ’02 European Championships and twice at the ’90 and ’99 World Championships. In addition, he was also named Sweden’s Player of the 20th Century. “It’s always great to be here in the Netherlands. I think there is a very good organization behind this tournament and the track is fantastic.”

Like in the Netherlands, goalball is not very well known in Sweden, says national coach Wislander. “It is difficult for us to find young players. Of course that’s good, because fortunately that means there are few who are visually impaired. I can choose between eight players because a number of older players quit last season. So it is difficult to find a new generation.”

Sweden-Italy

Sweden’s goal this tournament is to finish in the top three. The countries currently attending the EPC2023 are in the C division and the first three promote to the B division. Sweden lost to Hungary (1-5) earlier this tournament and won against Bulgaria (4-9). On Friday they won from Italy 4-5 in a nerve-wracking match.

For Swedish international Fatmir Seremeti, the excitement was palpable. “It’s always fun to play matches like this that are so close together. One mistake can decide the match. I have been in the sport for more than 24 years and have played three Paralympics as well as many World Cups and European Championships. Without a doubt, this is the best European Championship ever held.”

Christian Mair, player of the Italian team, was saddened by the lost match. “It was a tough match for us and unfortunately we lost. All in all, though, it was good preparation for Saturday’s quarterfinals. Italy takes on Spain at noon on Saturday.

Distraction during goal

During the match between Sweden and Italy, play was stopped several times because of noise from another room, where teams were warming up. At the 3-3 for Italy, several of Sweden’s players protested that they were bothered by the noise, but the referee on duty did not respond. “It caused Olof Ryberg, the player to my left, not to be able to hear the movement of the ball on the other side. That’s why we got a goal against. I think the referees should be a little more aware of the sound situations, but they are also under pressure.”

Sweden’s joy was enormous after the late winning goal. “I’ve never been in a situation like this before. So it was very nice with I think 30 seconds to go that we got the lead. After that I knew we had to defend and focus on the ball. Luckily we were able to get it over the line that way.”

Bulgaria plays with two men

During Bulgaria’s match against Hungary, we saw something that has not happened before during the EPC. After two players were injured, Bulgaria’s coach had no more players to bring in and they had to continue with two men.

Balázs Martyin, Hungary’s national coach, praised his opponent. “We hoped they could just play the game out with three men, because we want to keep the game as fair as possible. It’s brave of them that they played on despite being down a man.”

Hungary won the match 17-7, which also allowed the referee to whistle earlier for the end of the match. Indeed, if a team is ahead by 10 goals they have automatically won the match.

Program Saturday, quarter-finals:

9 a.m. France – Bulgaria

10:30 a.m. Hungary – Azerbaijan

12:00 p.m. Spain – Italy

1:30 p.m. Sweden – Netherlands

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