Though U.S. Men lost to Turkey on Monday in their final game of preliminary play, they had already secured a spot in the quarterfinals with a 4th place finish ahead of Finland, reigning Paralympic Champions.
On Tuesday afternoon, Finland beat China (11-7), moving U.S. Men into 3rd place going into quarterfinals. Then, Lithuania’s win over Tukey (5-3) later Tuesday night moved U.S. Men into second place, which put them against Germany, who took 3rd place during preliminary play in Group A.
Quarterfinals serve as a single elimination round at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games; and since both American and German Men’s teams failed to qualify for London, each team had something to prove. In their last Paralympic appearance, U.S. Men just missed the podium, finishing fourth at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
Paralympian Tyler Merren got Team USA on the board quickly, slipping a goal past Germany’s center. Germany answered a minute later, tying the score, 2 minutes into the game. John Kusku gave U.S. Men the lead by popping the ball over Germany’s center and into the right corner. The lead was short-lived as Germany’s center scored, tying it up 2-2. Before the end of the first half, Hamilton and Merren managed to extend Team USA’s lead 4-2.
Germany showed they were still in the game by scoring on a powerful pitch down the middle to bring the score to 4-3. The first penalty of the game was on Merren for a long ball, which Germany used to tie the game 4-4. Germany then committed a long ball penalty themselves enabling Hamilton to put Team USA back in the lead (5-4). The intensity from both teams began to heighten as the clock wound down. A series of close saves by Kusku and Merren kept U.S. Men in the lead until Germany regained the lead with two goals on Team USA. With less than 2 minutes left in the second half, Merren tied the game 6-6. Hamilton sealed the win by slipping it past Germany’s right wing into the corner.
“We expected a game like this the entire time,” said Hamilton. “This is a young team. They fight, buzzer to buzzer. It’s no accident they’re in this tournament.”
The quarterfinals serve as a knock-out round. Team USA’s win means they advance to semifinals and Germany is done playing in Rio.
“This has, so far, been the toughest win for us in the tournament,” said Hamilton. “I tip my cap to Germany, their coaches, their players – that’s a great team and I’m sure they will be a force to be reckoned with when Tokyo corridor begins.”
U.S. Men will face Brazil tomorrow (Thursday, September 15) in semifinals at 1:30pm BRT. Follow @USMGoalball on Twitter for live tweets from the game.
“We really hoped to be in this moment,” said Kusku. “We knew that our road was going to be through Brazil and that’s tomorrow. It’s gonna be great.”