Last wheelchair rugby spots for Rio at stake
By Beau Greenway | For the IPC
Six nations have one last chance to qualify for September’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The final two spots are at stake at the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) 2016 Paralympic Qualifier Tournament, which begins Saturday (16 April) and goes until 22 April in Paris, France.
The tournament features Denmark, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, the USA and host nation France, and the top two finishers will advance to Rio 2016.
So far six nations have already qualified: Australia as the current world champions, Canada from the Americas zone, Japan from Asia, Great Britain and Sweden from Europe, and Brazil as the host nation.
Meet the squads looking to join the other six:
The world’s No. 2 ranked nation will start the tournament as clear favourites to continue their impressive run of qualifying for every Paralympics since the sport was first introduced as a demonstration event at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympics.
Rio 2016 marks the first year that the side has not automatically qualified for the Paralympics. But they should have enough firepower and experience to take one of the two spots on offer.
High-pointers Chuck Aoki and Josh Wheeler will once again play a key role. However team USA has prided themselves on their balanced line-up.
France may only be the third highest ranked nation at the qualification tournament, but the host nation have one clear advantage that may be enough to propel them to Rio —the power of home crowd.
With very little separating the remaining five nations in the rankings, France will approach the tournament full of confidence.
Riyadh Sallem (a 3.5-pointer) has a wealth of experience at the highest level and will need to be at his damaging best to ensure France secure the all-important ticket to Rio.
The Danish team are No. 6 in the world rankings and fell just one goal short against Sweden in the semi-finals of the European Championships, which would have earned them automatic qualification.
Being the second highest ranked nation at the tournament adds extra pressure on Denmark. But the Danish confidence may come from beating European rivals France, Finland and Germany in all recent major tournaments.
Denmark has continued to improve since it hosted the IWRF World Championships in 2014 and are aiming to qualify for their first Paralympics.
After a poor 2014 World Championship campaign where they finished 11th, Germany has worked to put itself in a position to qualify for Rio 2016.
The Germans made the final four at the European Championships, where they lost to the eventual champions, Great Britain, and were very competitive against Denmark in the bronze medal match, falling 56-48.
Germany boasts a well-balanced line up which can be often difficult to match up against.
The Paralympic champions in 2004 have lost a lot of experience since their successful campaign at Athens. But New Zealand still possess a very dynamic roster that is capable of beating higher ranked teams.
Cameron Leslie (3.0 sport class) has been a mainstay in the starting line-up. His leadership on and off the court will go a long way toward New Zealand returning to the sport’s top stage.
They enter as the underdogs. But the world’s No. 11 ranked nation have received a major boost ahead of the last chance qualifier which may give them a slight edge over their rivals.
Canadian Benoit Labrecque is assisting Finland’s new coaches Jussi Immonen and Osku Kuutamo at the tournament.
Finland received the call-up to play in the tournament after Ireland was forced to withdraw and will want to make the most of chance they have been given.
The tournament schedule is as follows (CET):
9:00am France vs. Finland
11:00am USA vs. Germany
1:00pm New Zealand vs. Denmark
3:00pm Germany vs. Finland
5:00pm France vs. Denmark
7:00pm USA vs. New Zealand
9:00am Germany vs. Denmark
11:00am USA vs. Finland
1:00pm Germany vs. New Zealand
3:00pm France vs. USA
5:00pm Denmark vs. Finland
7:00pm France vs. New Zealand
9:00am USA vs. Denmark
11:00am France vs. Germany
1:00pm New Zealand vs. Finland
5:00pm 5th vs. 4th
7:00pm 6th vs. 3rd
11:00am Semi-final 1
1:00pm Semi-final 2
3:00pm Fifth and sixth place matches
5:00pm Bronze medal match
7:00pm Gold medal match