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Bittersweet day for Australian goalball
It was jubilation and heartbreak for Australia today after the Australian women’s goalball team qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, but the men’s team fell short in a dramatic extra-time final at the Goalball Regional qualifier at Sydney Olympic Park.
The Australian women’s team will be the first Australian goalball team to compete at a Paralympics since the Sydney Games in 2000 after they defeated New Zealand 6-2 to secure their passage to the Games.
Overjoyed at not only qualifying for the Games but also being crowned the 2011 IBSA Africa Oceania Goalball Regional Champions, the team was almost beyond words following a tense game against a committed New Zealand side.
“We’re ecstatic. It’s the first time Australia has qualified in 11 years and I’m really glad we could do it,” said Australian women’s head coach Georgina Kenaghan.
“Coming into the final with this much pressure, the girls handled it really well. New Zealand had improved a lot and was a lot stronger defensively today so we really had to work on getting the goals through and the girls did really well to pull that off.
“The pressure’s been tough and it’s been a big learning curve coming in to a tournament with such a big expectation. They’ve handled it really well and to contain that sort of nervous energy is really tough but they remained calm and got the result.”
Australia’s Tyan Taylor opened the scoring before captain Meica Christensen converted a penalty to take the score to 2-0 at half time.
New Zealand responded with an opening goal after the half time siren but was unable to stop Australia from scoring three more times to extend their lead in the fight for their Paralympic ticket.
Captain Meica Christensen ended the contest with three goals while Nicole Esdaile scored two goals and Tyan Taylor one.
But Australia’s good luck did not continue into the men’s do-or-die final, with the Australian men’s team going down 5-4 to Algeria in a tense extra-time tie break.
Ranked 15th behind the ninth ranked Algerians, Australia entered the match as the underdogs, having been defeated by the Africans in the two preliminary games earlier this week.
Captain Robbie Vogt opened strongly for Australia and kept the momentum rolling as Australia cruised to a 4-0 lead at half time.
But Algeria kept their heads and managed to keep Australia scoreless while netting four goals to tie the scores at 4-all at the full time buzzer.
In a first to score extra time period, tensions were high as Algeria won the toss for the ball and scored shortly afterwards, bringing an end to a nail-biting final and securing the final spot for the London 2012 goalball competition.
“Sport is a cruel thing. Algeria showed what a quality team they are. It was always going to be tough for us, but we gave ourselves the best chance,” said Australian men’s goalball head coach Rob Apps.
“I’m really proud of our guys. They gave everything they could. I could be happier with the result, but I couldn’t be prouder with the effort they put in.
“Algeria has got some quality players and they took their opportunities today when it counted most. That’s sport. Sport reflects life a lot because it’s about seizing the opportunities when they arise. Algeria did that best today, and now we wish them the best at London 2012.”
The London 2012 Paralympic Games begin August 29 and run until September 9, 2012.
By Rebekka Wake