Chiba – Sevda Altunoluk is the only player remaining from the Turkish team that won the women's goalball gold medal at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
After emphatically closing the door on Japan’s hopes this year, she'll get a chance to win another gold with a new set of teammates.
Altunoluk gave Turkey a one-goal lead at halftime and then scored four of the last five goals of a tight semifinal to give her team a spot in the final with a 8-5 win over Japan at Chiba's Makuhari Messe on Thursday.
"We believed we were going to succeed in this semifinal," she said. "We stayed calm because we believed.
"Every goal that we concede reminds us of our hard work and our dreams."
Altunoluk scored all eight of Turkey's goals but saved her best for the second half.
Norika Hagiwara gave Japan new life with a goal that evened the score at 4-4 with 6:56 remaining in the second half.
Altunoluk struck right back, spinning as she delivered a powerful ball that bounded across the floor and over the legs of Hagiwara and Reiko Takahashi, who were attempting to block it.
She scored again at the 6:08 mark to make it 6-4.
Hagiwara slipped a ground ball past Altunoluk to close the gap to one, but the Turkish ace scored two more late goals to put the match away.
“I think I did my job on attack, but I wasn't able to do as much as I expected defensively," Hagiwara said. “I will fix it for the next game and try to get the bronze medal."
Turkey has only lost once during these Games and heads into the finals battle-tested after a tough game against Japan.
"Every hard match makes us stronger,” Turkey’s Reyhan Yilmaz said.
Turkey will face the United States for the gold medal on Friday. The U.S. rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the second half to edge Brazil 5-4 in their semifinal Thursday night.
"One thing we really work on is end-of-game situations," American Amanda Dennis said. "We work on how to execute shots when we need to execute shots and coming back from behind. There are plenty of times in practices when coach will say, 'this team is down 3-1, you guys need to come back, you have two minutes.'
"We've just learned how to win."
The U.S. is the only team that has beaten Turkey during these Paralympics.
"They weren't looking at us as a team that could beat them and we showed who we were," Dennis said.
"We showed them we deserve the spotlight now.”
Japan will meet Brazil for bronze prior to the gold medal match.
"Our team will check all the data and fix everything we need to and we'll win and bring the medal home," Hagiwara said.
Hagiwara scored twice to give Japan a 2-0 lead 22 seconds into the match and accounted for all of her team’s goals.
"I'm good at quiet ground balls and I was able to score with those today," she said.
While Altunoluk, who has 37 goals during the Tokyo Games, is part of the old guard for Turkey, on Friday she will try to help a new generation begin to make its mark. One of those players, Fatama Gul Guler, is just 17 years old. Guler, however, has scored six goals and played over 100 minutes across Turkey's six games.
"It's my first Paralympic Games, but I will have success here," Guler said.
Earlier in the day, China won the first men’s semifinal, beating the United States 8-1 for a chance to play for gold. Yang Mingyuan scored six goals and Hu Mingyao added a pair. China will face Brazil in the final.
"We had the mindset of, 'If we're going to go through to the gold medal match we have to fight through China, we literally have to fight through the Great Wall of China,” U.S. player Daryl Walker said.
"We knew they were going to be a powerhouse team, but we still went in there with the mindset that we were going to win this game, and it just didn't go our way."
The U.S. had hoped to have two teams fighting for gold medals on Saturday. Instead, the U.S. men will face Lithuania for bronze.
"Unfortunately today was not their day, but they are a spectacular team and we only want the best for them," Dennis said. "We're so excited for tomorrow, to watch them fight for a bronze medal because bronze is beautiful."
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