Against all odds, the U.S. men’s goalball team started its Paralympic campaign with a thrilling victory over Brazil on Thursday afternoon.
Ranked eighth in the world, the U.S. was handed a tough draw for the Tokyo Paralympics, being placed in Group A alongside the likes of reigning Paralympic champion Lithuania and world No. 1 Brazil.
In goalball, two teams of three players each compete on a court reminiscent of the one used for indoor volleyball. Athletes who are visually impaired or completely blind wear eyeshades to level the playing field and throw a hard rubber ball – which features a bell inside – into the opposing team’s net, which is 9 meters wide and 1.3 meters high. Athletes block the ball with their bodies.
Regardless of how this matchup appeared on paper, the Americans proved themselves as medal contenders by taking down the two-time reigning world champion team 8-6.
Calahan Young, 26, starred for the U.S. in his Paralympic debut, scoring four goals. He also played all 24 minutes, more than any player on either team, and had almost double the number of total throws as any other American with 40 (Tyler Merren had 22).
Brazil’s Romario Marques opened play by scoring a penalty-shot goal after Zach Buhler was given a personal penalty for delaying the game. Young put the Americans on the board two minutes later. Goals by Josemarcio Sousa and Merren, competing at his fourth Paralympics for the U.S., made it appear the first 12-minute half would close in a tie, until Sousa handed the U.S. an own goal with 29 seconds left.
Brazil was quick to respond in the second half, with Leomon Moreno, the top goal-scorer at the last two world championships, scoring 41 seconds in and notching another less than a minute later, bringing it to 4-3 in his team’s favor.
Two-time Paralympian Matt Simpson, who earned his law degree last year, had his first goal of the tournament 12 seconds later to tie it up once more. Moreno scored a penalty-shot goal over Young, who fired back a few minutes later for the start of a U.S. tear that brought it from 5-4 in Brazil’s favor to 8-5 in the U.S.’ in a matter of five minutes.
The impressive run included three goals by Young and one by Daryl Walker, the elder statesman of the U.S. team at 39 who made his mark shortly after being substituted in for Merren. Brazil attempted to come back, with Sousa scoring in the final minute, then again at the buzzer, though that one was called a long ball and given a shot violation.
The U.S. continues play on Friday at 1:15 p.m. local time/12:15 a.m. ET against host country Japan. A full Paralympic Games broadcast schedule is available here. Events can also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app with more info available here.
In 10 previous Paralympic appearances, the U.S. men’s goalball team has accumulated five medals, including silver in 2016 – its best result in 28 years – though the team placed fifth at the world championships two years later. The team’s only gold came in 1984.
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