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Australia’s women’s goalball team, the Aussie Belles, have exited Tokyo 2020 with their heads held high after pushing reigning Paralympic champions Turkey all the way in their historic quarter final on Wednesday.

The Belles went down 10-6 to arguably the world’s best team but gave Turkey an almighty fright, getting to within three goals as the game reached a tense conclusion. If not for a series of penalty saves by the skilful Turks, the Belles, who progressed through the group stage for the first time, might have pulled off a win for the ages.

The loss ends a campaign that could be a turning point for the sport, which has always existed on the periphery in Australia but may now have attracted a new legion of players.

“Sevda’s a really great player,” Belles captain Meica Horsburgh said of Sevda Altunoluk, Turkey’s star, who scored eight goals.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t convert the penalties and that maybe did lose us the game. But they defended really well too.

“I’m just so proud of the girls and the coaches. We made history. We can all be proud.”

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After the match, Horsburgh took some moments before joining her teammates. She confirmed that her 15-year career was now over.

“I just needed some time to myself,” the 32-year-old said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I can be proud to walk away because what we just did was amazing.

“I just had to take that time to sink it in for myself and be proud of everything I’ve done in my career – and help inspire the next generation of goalball.”

Horsburgh is one of three Belles players who have played at three Paralympics, in London, Rio and here in Tokyo, along with Jenny Blow and Tyan Taylor.

“Turkey’s team No.1 and they’re team No.1 for a reason,” Blow said.

“I said the other day we’re a great team – we still are a great team. They’re a fantastic team but we gave it our all. These guys threw so incredibly well. The defense at times was rock solid. There were really tough balls coming at us. We can be proud of that.”

Asked about the platform the side has set for the future of Australian goalball, Blow said: “I think Meica and I probably won’t be in Paris. It’s probably our last Games. But, you know what, the future is bright in Australia for goalball.

“I hope we’ve inspired some people to take up the sport, some young vision impaired kids, to be the next Aussie Belles.

“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you everyone for the support from back home and for following the Aussie Belles.”

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Coach Peter Corr said he was proud beyond words.

“Last time we played Turkey and Russia they ‘mercyed’ us,” referring to the rule whereby when a team reaches 11 goals, the game is stopped.

“Here we’ve beaten Russia and absolutely put the Australian wind up Turkey today and showed them that we’ve set a platform that I hope goalball in Australia can use to get better than what we are.”

Of the team he brought to Tokyo, Corr said: “They showed that hard work, playing together, commitment … don’t let anything get in your way.

“You’re talking six women here who work every day to earn a living, do a really good job on their work and then they find time outside of that to train as elite athletes and come and represent their country like that. What’s not to be proud of?

“I think they represent themselves and the players before them extraordinarily well. These girls deserved to be here, they deserved to be quarter finalists.”

Asked why people should give goalball a try, Corr said: “You will discover fantastic new people. If you commit to it, there’s the opportunity for rewards.

“If you do to the best of your ability, you may well get to represent your country at a Paralympic Games. That’s a big honour.”

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 1 September 2021