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[Blind Soccer All-Japan Championship] Over 3,000 Watch Avanzare Tsukuba Become Four-time Champion

The 15th AXA Brave Cup Blind Soccer All-Japan Championship Tournament was held July 9–10 at the Aminovital Field (Chofu City, Tokyo). A total of 15 teams, the highest number for this tournament to date, competed for the title of all-Japan champion. Avanzare Tsukuba took home the championship for the fourth consecutive year.

Tamura's two goals bring the team victory

Top player Tamura makes the first score

The final was a match between Avanzare Tsukuba, with Japanese representatives Ryo Kawamura and Roberto Izumi Sasaki , and buen cambio yokohama, with Japanese representative Hiroshi Ochiai.

Avanzare started the game aggressively. Yuichi Tamura made determined attempts to dribble the ball to the goal and strike, but buen cambio yokohama kept up a firm defense led by sighted player Ryohei Abe .

The first goal was at the five-minute mark of the first half. A tight struggle in front of the goal ended when Tamura kicked the ball with his right foot through the goalkeeper's thighs.

Avanzare Tsukuba's second goal was at the fifteen-minute point. Roberto dribbled the ball to the goal and Tamura made another grand score with his right leg. Immediately after, Roberto lamented having the score taken by Tamura, to which Tamura commented, "It was the sound of a pass and not a dribble, so I kicked without hesitation. All I can say is, sorry! (laughs)" His words are a true striker's.

In the second half, Avanzare Tsukuba showed no signs of holding back. The second half started without Tamura, and Kawamura led the team on an attack for buen cambio yokohama's goal. Kawamura made multiple threatening shots but was not able to make a score. "I played and shot just as I envisioned. I felt no pressure. It feels wonderful to be able to play in front of so many people. I had fun playing this game." Although he made no goals, his performance showed his growth from the Brazil tour in June with the Japanese team, and garnered much applause from spectators.

Buen cambio yokohama's Ochiai came forward from the middle of the first half. He made multiple close shots with individual plays, but was not able to get past Avanzare Tsukuba's solid defense. Avanzare Tsukuba won 2-0, making them the all-Japan champions for the fourth consecutive year.

When reflecting on participating in the final for the first time in four years, Ochiai stayed positive despite buen cambio yokohama's defeat, saying, "Yuki Saito , who joined the team in June, showed a good response to loose balls." He also clarified where the team will need more work: "I hope to utilize this strength and gain more possession of the ball next year."

Avanzare Tsukuba hoisting their trophy to celebrate their winning streak

Kawamura of Avanzare Tsukuba (left) garnered applause from the audience

Heated third-place playoff

The third-place playoff took place before the final. Matsudo-Nogizaka United and Tama Hassas both demonstrated strong defenses, and the game ended in a scoreless tie. In the penalty shoot-out, the first kickers of both teams missed. The second kicker of Tama Hassas (kicking first) was sighted player Takumi Nakao , who landed the ball into the right side of the goal. The second kicker of Matsudo-Nogizaka United was veteran Yasuhiro Sasaki , whose ball hit the left goal post and missed. Tama Hassas won the penalty shoot-out and the third-place playoff. Nakao, who made the victory-deciding goal in the penalty shoot-out, said, "In the semi-finals I missed during the penalty shoot-out, which is why we didn't make it to the final. This was like a revenge shot for me." It was a battle of the will.

Tamura of Avanzare Tsukuba won the Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive year. Toshihito Kiyoto of Avanzare Tsukuba won the Most Valuable Goalkeeper award, and Tama Hassas won the Fair Play Award.

Leading player Kuroda of Tama Hassas

Tama Hassas won the penalty shoot-out

3,347 people came over the two days

The tournament offered 100 paid seats, which is rare for domestic events of adapted sports, and these had all sold by July 7. With 15 teams, the highest number of teams in the history of the tournament, it became one of the biggest events for adapted sports in Japan, attracting 3,347 people over the two days.

Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, Chairman of Japan Inclusive Football Federation (JIFF) and presenter at the closing ceremony, offered comments on the tournament:。

"We saw a lot of great plays, and I think the level of the tournament keeps getting higher. There are more teams now, and this shows a broadening of the sport across the country. The Japanese representative team unfortunately did not qualify for Rio, but today the players boosted expectations for the future, for example in the progress shown by players who participated in the Brazil tour (in June). It is unfortunate that we were not qualified for Rio, but that did not end things. In Japan, when a sport is not qualified, it loses a lot of attention. I'm glad this didn't happen for us."

The Tokyo Paralympic Games are four years from now.

Kitazawa continued, "We must promote the sport, not only with the Japanese team but also with the All-Japan Championships and regular league matches. How can we strengthen the sport today and spread it in the future? Unless we consider these things, 2020 will be our final goal with nothing to come after. Blind soccer should strive to be a good influence for other adapted soccer varieties."

The "15th AXA Brave Cup Blind Soccer All-Japan Championship Tournament" was watched by many people and was a solid step towards the Paralympic Games four years from now.

text by Tatsuya Ikeda
photo by X-1
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