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Anna Sharkey and GB women's goalball team held to a draw by Finland at Paralympic Games
ANNA Sharkey and her GB team-mates secured their first point of the Paralympic Games goalball campaign with a battling 1-1 draw with Finland.
The Brits trailed to an 11th minute goal by Finnish winger Krista Leppanen but drew level in the 21st minute with a penalty from Jessica Luke.
GB were defeated 7-1 by China in their opening match in the Copper Box on Thursday night and headed into the game with Westcliff -player Sharkey calling Finland the team’s nemesis.
But it was an even first half with both sides blocking each others’ shots well and GB suffering none of the ill fortune where the ball went in off players, as it had done against China.
The half looked like finishing goalless until 27-year-old Leppanen scored with a diagonal ball which went between GB winger Luke and centre Georgina Bullen into the centre of the goal. The second half continued to mirror the cagey nature of the first until a penalty to GB signalled the start of a thrilling final six minutes.
GB were awarded the penalty following a high ball from Finland’s Kaisu Hynninen. Luke took the penalty but the 26-year-old Finnish centre dived to her right to block the ball.
The partisan crowd roared their support and in the 20th minute GB were awarded another penalty following a high ball from winger Katja Heikkinen.
Sharkey, a physiotherapist at Southend Hospital , took the penalty but the 24-year-old’s effort was blocked by Heikkinen’s legs.
But any thoughts that it was not going to be the Brits’ day were dispelled when Luke grabbed the equaliser, much to the approval of a packed Copper Box.
Leppanen conceded her second penalty of the match for another high ball and this time Luke rolled the ball into the left-hand corner, beyond the Finn’s dive.
As the tension mounted the game was stopped while referees Morten Hammeshoi and Ali Aldarsony discussed calls that the ball had been carried across the line by a Finnish player. But they decided no goal had been scored – a decision which did not go down well with the crowd.
And with nine seconds left on the clock a high ball penalty was awarded against Luke but the GB winger blocked Leppanen’s bowl, much to the delight of the spectators.
With the clock running down, Finland made a substitution, bringing Maija Somerkivi on for Leppanen, but were penalised when Heikkinen broke the 10 second rule before the ball must be rolled.
But with the final buzzer having sounded, there was to be no fairytale ending as Heikkinen blocked the Briton’s penalty.
Sharkey was delighted GB have secured their first point of their Group C campaign and again was blown away by the reception the team got in the Copper Box.
“Wasn’t it a fun game? I just loved playing every minute of it,” she said. “One point on the board, why not, it was better than yesterday and it really was fist fight of a game. “I think there was a moment in the first half where we lost our cool a little bit but then we came back. We had quite a structure at the start of the second half and that settled us back in.
“ I think we were ruling in the second half and we had momentum on our side and we had all those people behind us pushing us on. I really enjoy the fact that you can just put your arm up and everyone cheers. And the GB winger felt the team drew extra strength from going a goal behind with a minute left of the first half.
“I think conceding a goal just before the end of the first half made us even more driven,” she added/ “ I think it was quite a fast shot and I believe it went into the opposite pocket, obviously you’ve got shades on so we are not exactly sure where it went. “We changed wings (with Sharkey switching to the right and Luke to the left) so we changed something in the game and that helped us start afresh. We felt ‘OK, we are 1-0 down and now we up the ante’. “Finland did give us a few penalties but they are quite good at defending penalties. “You do your best to have a go but it’s a highly pressured situation when you are throwing the ball because you want it to be accurate and the best placement that you can, so we made the most of them and got one out of it and you’re not going to say no to that.
And off the disallowed goal, Sharkey said: “I heard about the goal that wasn’t given. When you have shades on it’s difficult to know what’s happening at the other end.
“I was just aware of a very long officials’ timeout but I’m sure I’ll hear a lot more about it from the coach.”
GB return to action at 9am on Sunday when they face Brazil, who beat Denmark 2-0 in their opening fixture on Thursday before being beaten 8-0 by China today.
Sharkey is unsure what to expect against the South Americans in a match where GB really need a win to push them up the table.
“We have never played Brazil before so it’s very difficult to have any thoughts on it,” Sharkey added.
“ I think if we go out and play our game then it shouldn’t matter what team we are facing because if we control it and we own it, we stake the claim on court.
““The great British public are just behind Paralympics GB. We lost on Thursday and got an uproarious celebration from the crowd. “They are with us when we are playing on court and of course we want to show them a win and I’m looking forward to that time.”
GB coach Knut Kursawe was satisfied with the draw and with the improved performance of his team.
“Today I am happy the difference is that today they were where I would expect them to be,” he said.
“Sometime you are unlucky and you cannot score and you have to really work hard. The 1-1 is enough for this game.
“This is an improvement from yesterday because a loss like that was not really expected. We were a bit unlucky to lose to China like that.”
And he had no complaints over the goal that was ruled out by the referees or Luke’s last penalty being saved.
“The goal judge gave it and this is the reason we have them,” Kursawe explained. “This rule is very difficult when she is coming backwards and the goal judge is looking from there, it is very difficult for them to say and I would not complain.
“And with the last penalty, I think you have to get into the mindset of the player. They know it is only one second on the clock and this is their last chance to win the game. It is unlucky and I guess that the 1-1 result is fine for us.
“The crowd are absolutely brilliant and they were fantastic again this afternoon. “To have them behind us is great with all the cheering, but it’s hard work as a coach when it comes to communicating with the players because there is a four-metre gap between me and them. After the two games my voice has gone!”
China top the Group C table with six points, with Brazil second with three points.
Finland are third on goal difference over GB with both teams having one point.
Denmark are bottom of the table without a point but, like Finland, have only played one match.