Russian footballers missed a host of scoring opportunities to surrender gold to their Ukrainian opponents in a thrilling extra-time finish following lack-luster play in normal time last night.
Russia`s Andrey Kuvaev (left) vies for a header from Ukraine goalkeeper Kostyantyn Symashko (right) in the 7-a-side football gold medal final. Ukraine won 2-1 in extra time. [China Daily]
The Sydney Games champion missed several opportunities to wrest gold from Ukraine as the men`s football 7-a-side final was disrupted for almost an hour by rain at the Olympic Green Hockey Field.
In its third final in the past three Paralympics, Ukraine, with a squad made up of a single club side, defended its title 2-1 in a relatively uneventful match that only really took flight in extra time.
"I told my Ukrainian counterpart that whoever who got the first goal would win," said Avtandil Baramidze, Russia`s coach.
"Ukraine did it. I just want to congratulate them."
"I can`t say there was pressure from us," added Russian captain Ivan Potekhin.
"This kind of final was always going to be hard to predict. But our team may need to work harder on our mental and technical ability."
Both sides were too cautious in the opening minutes, exchanging long-range efforts without any real threat.
Ukraine started minus Ivan Shkvarlo, who scored seven goals previously in the tournament, while Russian striker Andrey Kuvaev had a poor game.
The only real opportunity early on was Russian captain Ivan Potehkin`s close-range shot that went wide of the net.
The crowd`s relative silence was not broken until the final 10 minutes of the first half, as both goalkeepers thwarted dangerous chances.
Kuvaev was bitterly disappointed to squander a one-on-one chance in the 49th minute.
In the last seconds of the game, Ukraine`s Anatolli Shevchyk failed to head into the empty net.
"The Russians were such a powerful team. In the second half, they almost finished us," said Ukraine`s captain Volodymyr Antonyuk.
A thunderstorm hit the venue late in the game, delaying extra time by 50 minutes.
But thankfully, the game finally came to life after the pause, with the slippery ground contributing to the action.
The first goal finally came in the ninth minute of extra time when Ukraine`s captain Volodymyr Antonyuk poked a loose ball, that had been blocked by Russian goalkeeper Alexander Lekov, into an empty net.
The Ukrainian captain added another one from long range off a Russian defender to make it two for his team in the opening seconds of the second half of extra time.
"I was just lucky with my two goals. Basically we were two equal opponents," said Antonyuk.
But the Russians quickly hit back through Lasha Murvanadze.
Murvanadze had another bicycle kick in the 77th minute but luck was not on his side.
Earlier yesterday, Iran won its first Paralympic football medal after defeating Athens silver medalist Brazil 4-0 to take bronze.
The Iranians` fluid passing enabled its dangerous striker and tournament top scorer Abdolreza Karimzadeh to open the account just five minutes into play.
The 26-year-old showed his aerial ability with a perfect header in the 17th minute before Brazil`s defense twice coughed up possession and awarded Iran`s No 10 his hattrick in the 21st minute. Moslem Akbari then wrapped it up with a freekick.