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[Men's Preliminaries for Japan Goalball Championships] Team Fuzoku A Is the Preliminary Victor

The men's first preliminary games for the November Japan Goalball Championships was held for two days from July 2 at the gymnasiums of Nagoya College and Toyoake Municipal Sakae Elementary School in Aichi Prefecture. Ten teams from across the country attended. "Team Fuzoku A" took home the championship after a fierce game with "Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai."

As a result of these games, the top five teams (1st Team Fuzoku A; 2nd Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai; 3rd Team Fuzoku B; 4th Super Monkeys C; 5th NBS) qualified for the Japan Championships. A total of eight teams, including three more teams determined at the second preliminary games in October, will compete for the Japanese Championship. (Four teams will compete for the women's goalball championship.)

A contest of willpower that decided the game with 4 seconds remaining

The final game was between Team Fuzoku A, with Japanese representatives Youshu Nobusawa and Yuta Kawashima, and Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai, which came to the final after an extended semifinal game with Team Fuzoku B.

During the first half, Nobusawa of Team Fuzoku A went for a goal with a bounced ball, but Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai put up a tough defense led by Yuji Taguchi at center (the key person in the team's advance to the final) and Daiki Ochiai at left. Both teams played hard, repeatedly taking possession of the game from each other.
The flow shifted, however, when the second half started with Team Fuzoku A leading by one point. Although Team Fuzoku A widened the lead with one more point, making the score 3-1, they also allowed two fouls during particularly strained moments, giving the other team penalty throws. Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai solidly grasped these penalties and brought the game to a tie at 3-3.
Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai tried to use the momentum to their advantage, and effectively utilized two timeouts with 1 minute and 10 seconds remaining. They went for the goal with the first throws post-restart, but were blocked by the other team and were not able to add to their score. Conversely, Team Fuzoku A took a timeout with 4.7 seconds remaining, after which Nobusawa brilliantly scored and settled the match.

Winger Hiroshi Kobayashi contributed to the victory with a strong defense against the other team's powerful shots. "I'm glad we won in the very end. Our trust in each other led to this result." Nobusawa, who made the winning goal, showed relief at the victory but also reflected on the team's mistakes. "We made it hard for ourselves," he said, referring to the way they let the other team catch up. While agreeing with Nobusawa's comments, center player Kawashima spoke of what they gained in their quest for the Japan Championship, saying, "We were able to create a rhythm with our defense and take the game during the second half."

Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai played a hard game until the very end

Members of the victorious Team Fuzoku A

Expectations for a "Fuzoku" team play-off at the Japan Championships!?

The third-place playoff, between Super Monkeys C and Team Fuzoku B, was also a thrillingly close game. Team Fuzoku B made the first score from a penalty throw. Center player Kento Torii added more with an offense of utterly silent footsteps. They maintained their lead of 5-2 into the second half.

This is where, however, Super Monkeys C counterattacked. Female sighted player Mari Osuga vocally motivated her teammates from the center position. Right after the start of the second half, they took a score with their very first attempt, followed by two more with a focused attack on the other team's right wing, tying the game. From this point on, both teams showed great concentration, and if either took a point, the other followed suit. At 6-6, Team Fuzoku B made two consecutive scores, ultimately deciding the game which finished 9-7. After the game, the audience gave a full applause to winning Team Fuzoku B, as well as Super Monkeys C, a team of three members with no backup, which nevertheless showed tenacity and caught up twice during the game.

The victorious Team Fuzoku B switched the right wing position from Hitoki Kubono to Ryuma Kikuchi at a crucial point. From this point, the other team seemed to target Kikuchi, but they were able to regain possession of the game by "talking to each other and keeping our spirits up" (left position, Makoto Nakamura). The team overcame their disappointment in losing the semifinal with teamwork, and Kubono, who had even shown tears, ended with a strong positive note: "I hope that the two Fuzoku teams compete at the Japan Championships final."

Super Monkeys C showed a great fight

Yuji Taguchi took home the Most Valuable Player award

The individual Fighting Spirit award was given to Takeshi Ando of NBS, who had scored 42 points. At fifth place, Ando's performance contributed to the team's qualification for the Japan Championships. Taguchi of Koku-Reha Men's Team Rai received the Most Valuable Player award.。

Men's team already looks to the Tokyo Paralympics in four years

The Japanese representative goalball team did not qualify for Rio, losing at the last preliminaries. However, the fight towards the Tokyo Paralympics in four years has already begun. In order to compete with foreign teams, which often have players with bigger and more powerful physics, Japan must use technique and organizational teamwork. According to the Japan GoalBall Association, efforts will be made to gather information, for example sending analysts to tournaments overseas and dispatching non-village staff to the Rio Paralympics in September. They aim to make rapid progress via teambuilding with both athletes and staff members.

text&photos by Miharu Araki
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