Brazil's blind footballers see way to their own World Cup glory
Brazil fan (AFP)
Sao Paulo - Brazil's
all-conquering blind footballers kick off their blind world cup
campaign on Friday knowing they're not only top dogs - but top targets.
The International Blind Sports Federation's Blind Football World
Championships began in Madrid on Thursday and runs through to June 17.
Reigning world and Paralympic champions, the Brazilian team hopes to
strike gold yet again, setting the example for their colleagues at the
World Cup in Russia.
Brazilian star Ricardinho, who already has three Paralympic golds,
says he's ready to battle for a back-to-back world title, starting with
Friday's game against Mali.
"Everybody wants to take down the reigning champs, Brazil, and we
want to get the title again. It will be complicated but we're going to
fight a lot," he said.
Ricardinho, 29, was born to play soccer. Even as a tiny kid, when he
still had good eyesight, admiring neighbours told his father to take him
for trials at the big clubs.
However a problem in his retina that appeared at six year old left him totally blind at eight.
"In addition to the shock that I couldn't see, I was in pain because I
thought I'd never play football again," he said at Brazil's Paralympic
football field in Sao Paulo before leaving for Spain.
At 10, though, he discovered blind football, which is five-a-side and uses a ball with a bell. Only the goalkeepers are sighted.
"I started to train. It was a second chance to chase a dream I'd had since I was very small," he said.
Lacking access to the proper blind footballs, he'd wrap regular balls
in plastic, so that they'd make noise, allowing him to practice. Then
his family moved to the seaside city of Porto Alegre so that he could
attend a specialised school.
At 17, he played in his first world championship and he went on to
score more than a century of goals for the national team, earning two
world titles - and now gunning for his third.
Every player on a team of the blind has his own compelling story.
Ricardinho's team-mate Mauricio Dumbo escaped war in Angola and was
brought to Brazil at 11. Childhood measles robbed him of his sight but
not his love of football and now at 28 he plays winger for Brazil.
His sporting idols, whom he always followed by listening to radio
commentaries, are France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane and
Brazil's own World Cup champion striker Ronaldo "the Phenomenon."
But Dumbo's true sights go much further. Although he arrived in
Brazil all but unable to read, he now has a law degree, and he wants the
public to recognize him and his teammates as top-flight winners.
"My dream is that we be seen as professional athletes, which is what we are," he said.
That 2016 Olympics gold medal in Rio de Janeiro also brought rewards
of another kind: a chance to return to Angola and hug his mother again
for the first time in 15 years.
Brazil are fancied to win in Spain but these players know that the real battle is life itself.
"Everyone's a fighter with his own challenges," Dumbo said.