“Devastated, absolutely devastated,” was how captain David Clarke described how he felt after GB’s five-a-side (blind) football side yesterday failed to secure the two-goal victory they needed to qualify for the semi-finals.
“I am absolutely destroyed by what has happened there,” he said, after a defeat to Iran that ended his chances of a first Paralympic medal.
GB coach Tony Larkin said the players had been “in tears” in the changing-room after the game.
But Clarke agreed that the team had at least showcased their sport to the country, particularly in the thrilling second half.
He said: “We need to make a fact-based argument about the place of disability and minority sport in our culture.
“The Paralympics has shown in every way, shape and form how brilliant it is to watch other sports. We hope we have made a good advert from our performances.”
Asked by Disability News Service if he would reconsider his decision to retire after the tournament and keep playing until Rio 2016, Clarke’s answer was clear: “No.”
He said the GB team had been too “tentative” in the first half. “In the second half we gave it a really good go but nothing would go in.”
The team had been so distraught after the game that they were taken straight into the dressing-room to gather their thoughts, before Clarke, Daniel English and Darren Harris emerged to face the media.
English said the team were “very, very upset”, but knew they should have put more pressure on their opponents from the start of the game.
Asked if GB had expected to qualify for the semi-finals, he said: “We didn’t expect to qualify, we wanted to qualify. We wanted to go out there and give our best opportunity and best chances and take those chances, but we didn’t take them.”
They will still play two more matches to decide where they finish (between fifth and eighth), but they were here to win a medal, although Clarke insisted that they would “keep fighting and fighting” to secure fifth place.
English said: “It has been a fantastic opportunity to show blind football at its best and its highest levels and I hope it inspires the whole world to carry on following blind football and see how it progresses and develops as a whole sport.
“Hopefully in Great Britain they will still follow us in the future… and get behind us in all our future tournaments.”
Asked if a thrilling second-half team performance was any consolation for the defeat, Harris was blunt: “No,” he said, “not really, no. Sport is all about results.”
For the third time in their three qualifying games, GB had started slowly, committing too many fouls – once a team commits four serious fouls in a half, their opponents are given an eight-metre penalty for each major infringement – and falling behind late in the first half to a superbly-taken penalty by Shah Hossein.
GB had a chance to equalise just before half-time when English was fouled in the box, but Clarke’s penalty was saved.
Clarke – with his back-heels, close control and sharp turns – and defenders Keryn Seal and English were again the stand-out performers of a GB side that came out for the second half determined to turn the match around.
Time and again, Clarke and English had shots turned away by an inspired Iranian goalkeeper, with one of three eight-metre penalties from English crashing against the intersection of the post and crossbar.
Another dribble and fierce left-foot shot by Clarke was saved by the keeper with 11 minutes left on the clock, and with just a few minutes left, English weaved his way into the penalty area, only to lose control of the ball just before it reached the keeper.
By then, the crowd knew the game was up, even if Clarke and his team kept fighting right until the final whistle.
5 September 2012