Aus goalballers play for London 2012 spots
Victoria Bruce
13:44 AEST Wed Nov 16 2011

It's a Paralympic sport with the speed of soccer, the hardness of rugby league and the precision of golf - and the players are blindfolded.

Australian men's and women's goalball teams play Algeria and New Zealand respectively in Sydney on Thursday with spots in the 2012 London Paralympic Games at stake.

They're contesting final qualifying matches at Sydney's Olympic Park to wrap up the 2011 IBSA Africa-Oceania Goalball Regional Championships.

Goalball is a game involving a 1.25 kilogram rubber ball with a bell inside being launched at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour - and players use sound and touch to locate the ball.

The indoor sport played by the vision impaired is the only blind team sport played at the Paralympics.

Australian men's coach Rob Apps says players put their bodies on the line.

"It's a game with the speed of soccer, the hardness of rugby league and the precision of golf," Apps said.

"These guys must have mental toughness to judge and make decisions under extreme physical pressure."

Teams of six players, with three on the court at any one time, fight it out for possession of the ball, using their bodies to block potential goals.

Australian men's captain Robbie Vogt is a veteran goalballer who played in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.

He says the best way to play the high-contact game is to concentrate on communicating with your team-mates.

"It's really one of those things where you rely on your team and the guys around you," Vogt says.

"Because if you go out there and try and do these things as an individual and you're stuck in your own headspace, nothing will work."

He says the players compensate for lack of vision by using tactile cues and strong communication.

"Because we don't have the vision, we can't nod and wink to one another to see what the others are doing so you really need to communicate well and be well drilled to know what one another is doing on court."

Vogt said his team were determined to secure a spot in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

"London looks awesome. We're pretty to keen to be involved as it looks like the most amazing Paralympic Games to date," Vogt said.

Women's captain Meica Christensen said she first picked up a goalball when she was 15.

She snapped up a spot on the Australian team touring Sweden in 2004 and has been captain for the past two years.

The 22-year-old says her team has to good chance of beating the Kiwis in Friday's qualifying match - as long as they keep their cool.

"I think we can do it, but I think we just need to go into the match with the attitude that it's just another game and we need to win it," Christensen said.

"If we put too much pressure on ourselves, that's when things go bad and if we think it's going to be too easy then we'll let our guard down and next thing you know you're a couple of points down and it's hard to get back up.

"We're going to go out there and play our best tomorrow and we hope the boys will too."

Australian men's team: Robb Vogt, Ben Macfee, Thanh Tu, Ben Rowe, Jon Horsburgh, Michael Shepphard.

Australian women's team: Meica Christensen, Jenny Blow, Nicole Esdaile, Rachel Henderson, Tyan Taylor, Michelle Rzepecki.

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