Ali Pour, Mehrzad secure chance for Iran to defend Paralympic title in Tokyo

Meisam Ali Pour and Morteza Mehrzadselakjani combined for 28 points to lead Iran in locking the spot in the final to defend their men’s sitting volleyball title, following their sweep of their long-time rivals Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second semifinal of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Iran’s 3-0 (25-16, 25-16, 25-17) victory on Tuesday over Bosnia and Herzegovina at Makuhari Messe Hall marked the end of their rivalry at the Paralympic Games after five cycles.

Iran won three consecutive gold medals prior to Sydney 2000, where they won their fourth gold and started their rivalry with Bosnia and Herzegovina. An alternate trend followed in the next four cycles, with the Europeans taking gold at Athens 2004 and London 2012, and the Asian powerhouse climbing the top podium at Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016.

“We always face Bosnia and Herzegovina in the final match, so to face them in the semifinals was very surprising and strange for us.,” Mehrzad said.

“There are lots of expectations from the sitting volleyball team of Iran. We have to win. We have to be the champions, because the Iranian people expect us to get the gold medal, so we have to do our best.”

In the Tokyo 2020 men’s semifinal, Ali Pour and Mehrzad produced 15 and 13 points, respectively, then Sadegh Bigdeli helped with 10 markers including three blocks. On the Bosnia and Herzegovina side, Safet Alibasic and Mirzet Duran contributed nine points each.

Iran started a fast-paced game but their rivals kept up with their tempo for a tight score, but Iran’s risks on the attack paid off as they had the advantage at the end of the second technical timeout at 16-10. Iran continued using their quickness in their plays despite both sides having a blocking fest midway through the set. Iran took the first set 25-16.

The Iranian and Bosnian hitters fired bullet spikes at each other to start the second set. Iran had a two-point edge in the first technical timeout and showed what their 200 days per year training looked like in the Makuhari Messe sitting volleyball court, as they showcased fine sitting volleyball action.

The European side tried too hard to score and lost many points as their spikes went out of bounds. As they were down 16-10, they had to dig deeper in finding a way to turn the score around. Ali Pour sent some powerful hits through the Bosnian defence and took his team to mount a seven-point lead at 19-12, then Mehrzad took over and did what he does best in attacks to help his team close the second set 25-16.

Iran’s supremacy over Bosnia and Herzegovina got more obvious in the third frame as they led 11-6, prompting the Bosnian coach to call a timeout. Iran overwhelmed their rivals with speed and power to widen the gap at 16-7. The Bosnians found no way out of the Iranian barrage and conceded set and match at 25-17.

“We still have six or seven players that come from the older generation and right now we are facing a problem with the younger players who will continue in the future. We have to fix our mindset and we need younger players who can compete at a high level. We will play Brazil for third place so hopefully we will still get the bronze medal,” Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ermin Jusufovic said.

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