Great Britain women finished fourth at the IBSA European Championships in Rostock – narrowly missing out on a top three finish that could have seen Tokyo Paralympic qualification secured.
In the group stages of the tournament, Great Britain overcame the odds to beat Israel, one of the pre-tournament favourites, in a pulsating 4-3 encounter, to guarantee their place in the final eight of the European Championships.
Great Britain then faced World and European Champions Russia in the quarter-finals. The women produced a sensational display, and one of the upsets of the championship, breaking the Russian’s notoriously tough defence six times to run out 6-2 winners.
This set up a semi-final encounter against Israel. This remarkable match went into the break at 1-1, with Great Britain defending brilliantly to withstand the Israeli attack. The second half saw both teams put on an offensive masterclass; however, the eventual runner-up Israel were too strong in the end winning 4-3.
Great Britain narrowly missed out on a place on the podium after being defeated by hosts Germany in the bronze medal match.
Head coach Aaron Ford said: “There were so many positives to take from this tournament and we’re all extremely proud of the performances in Rostock.
“The matches against Israel and especially Russia prove just how far we have come and the immense talent we have throughout the team. These are teams with much more experience, but we made it clear that Great British goalball belongs at this level.
“Many members of the squad are just starting their international goalball journeys. There’s a real determination to regroup and use this experience to come back even stronger.”
Mark Winder, chief executive of Goalball UK, commented: “The entire goalball family is immensely proud of what this team achieved at the European Championships.
“When you consider that each of the teams that finished on the podium, as well as Russia, are part of their own full-time centralised goalball programme, it really puts into perspective just how well our team has done.
“We firmly believe the difference between having full-time programme and not is ultimately why we have been unable to qualify on this occasion. The increased time the team would get together to practise all elements of tactics, strength and conditioning, analysis of opposition, sports psychology and nutrition would have been vital. Regrettably, we do not have the resources to provide this for our athletes on a full-time basis.
“UK Sport’s Aspiration Fund that was awarded late last year enabled us to move forward and be extremely competitive at this level. While the Peter Harrison Foundation and other generous donors added so much to our programme over the last ten months.
“Nonetheless, what we have been able to provide for our athletes has been put together under substantial constraints. This is testament to the dedicated team we have at Goalball UK and their resourcefulness to support the players excellently without the appropriate backing.
“If goalball in our country is to continue its upward trajectory, significant support is essential. We are in serious danger of missing an opportunity to develop world class teams. We know our players have the potential to compete on the global stage.”
Great Britain had started their campaign with two narrow defeats against Paralympic champions Turkey and Germany, they got their first points on the board in a resilient 2-2 draw against The Netherlands.
The squad consisted of Sarah Leiter, Antonia Bunyan, Georgie Bullen, Meme Robertson, Kali Holder and Megan Smithson-Booth.