For the first time in European Blind Football history, there will be a qualifying tournament for the IBSA Blind Football European Championships in Berlin later this year. The qualifying tournament or “Division B” competition will be hosted in Bacau in Romania from 4th to 9th April with the top two nations earning their ticket to compete in the German capital in the summer.
Tournament host Romania head up Group A with their initial games coming against Georgia, Ireland and Albania. Awaiting the top two teams from that group will be either Greece, Belarus, Moldova or the Czech Republic from Group B.
“The IBSA Blind Football European qualifier in Bacau is the first major blindfold event in Romania and a great step to bring Paralympic sport to the public,” says Sally Wood-Lamont, President of NPC Romania and IBSA Europe Chairwoman.
A quick overview of the teams competition for a place at Euro 2017:
Romania has recently been on a good run of games and as host and with the backwind of the recent past, the team is one of the favourites.
A bit surprisingly, Georgia took part in the IBSA World Games in South Korea in 2015. There, they proved to be unimpressive against the likes of England and Argentina. So Georgia could be a good bet to take one of the two tickets to Berlin.
This is a international debut for Ireland in a European Championship event. It remains to be seen whether the “Boys in Green” can push for a place in Germany.
The nation with the lowest population is Albania. The South-East European country has around 2.8 million inhabitants. Albania made his debut in 2016 at the second Challenge Cup in neighbouring Greece. There they played in the fifth place.
Since the first European Championship in 1997, Greece has always featured at the European Championships however their tenth place finish at the Euro 2015 forces the Greeks to the qualifying tournament in Romania. Will the previous experience of pressured competition play to their advantage?
The Czech national team only appeared in the first Challenge Cup 2014 in Prague. Although they securing second place, there was still no place for them at the 2015 European Championship in England.
The Moldovan national team finished third in the Challenge Cup 2016 and improved by two places compared to their effort in the 2014 edition in Prague. For a small country like Moldova with a little more than three million inhabitants, the qualification for the European Championship would be sensational.
After long abstinence, Belarus returns to the international Blind Football stage. In their last and only participation in a European Championship, the team finished in ninth place in France in 2009.