After a long battle the final two berths in the Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby tournament were finally settled on Thursday in Paris. The United States and France will be joining the other qualified nations in Rio after they both won their semi-finals, with the United States claiming the tournament victory.
The first semi-final saw an unsurprising result as the United States controlled things from the very start against Denmark. The Danes attempt to exert some pressure in the early going, but the American defense was strong, forcing Denmark to use time-outs much earlier than they would have liked.
But even the Americans were guilty of mistakes, occasionally giving possession away which kept Denmark in the game. With time running out at the end of the first, the Americans ate up time on the clock and Eric Newby pushed over for a goal to make it a two-point lead after the first.
The second period was when the United States really kicked on, forcing turnovers and drawing penalties to start taking the game away from Denmark. The lead kept on stretching and by the end of the second, the American lead was seven points.
With such a powerful lead, the American defense just needed to remain solid, and avoid major mistakes to book their ticket to Rio. And they did just that, easily winning their semi-final by 12 points to book their trip to Brazil.
The second semi-final pit the two teams that were on the bubble in 2012, as France and New Zealand did battle in an entertaining match. It was France who would win, perhaps helped by the home support, meaning another Paralympic tournament without the former gold medalist.
Both teams were not shying away from the challenges with plenty of big hits from both sides seeing lots of excitement and lots of turnovers. Things were tight in the first, and neither side was able to break clear for very long as the two sides ended the first period with the scores tied at one.
France came out from the break on fire, pressuring New Zealand heavily and rushing out to a two goal lead in the early stages. But New Zealand fought back, forcing the errors and they managed to get the lead themselves, going up by one.
But again, France fought back, with Ryadh Sallem especially useful and his goal with seven seconds remaining in the second put France back in front by one. The Wheelblacks attempted to get a goal to level it at the half but the French defense was strong, keeping out New Zealand with strong blocks.
New Zealand tried to rotate their squad early in the third as they were putting on three fresh players, but that opened the door for France. Despite New Zealand having fresh men, France were able to build a three goal lead, that proved crucial.
That lead would be enough to hold through to the final quarter, and it saw France hold a defensive effort through the final quarter. New Zealand tried to force the turnovers but it couldn’t happen, seeing France through to the final and to Rio.