Blind Soccer 5 Nations Cup Final - Argentina Vs Brazil


A Brazilian forward glides the ball past the last defender, runs around him and traps the ball centimeters before it goes dead. An Argentine makes a dazzling run through the opposition and fires a thunderous shot that goes just wide. This is the typical skill that we expect from two of the World's great soccer nations; the only difference is that these players are blind!

Blind soccer is played by teams of 5 players on an enclosed field of 40x20 metres with 4 blind players covering the roles of attack and defense, and a fully sighted goalkeeper who must remain within the small goal box area. The ball has rattles inside so that players can judge its location, speed and direction and can be rebounded off the low walls.

A coach stands behind the goal to direct his team's shots. Players must call "voy" as they run so that other players know where they are and the risk of collisions can be reduced. Like any soccer game there is plenty of contact but there is none of the pushing and shoving or faking injuries so common in matches at all levels these days.

Today is the final of the 5 nation blind soccer tournament (Spain, Greece, and England also competed) between Argentina's Murcielagos (Bats) and Brazil. It's a glorious afternoon in Buenos Aires as the Brazilian team takes the field to warm up, they enter smiling and dancing in the typical Brazilian manner. Around the ground are banners and flags proudly supporting the Argentine team, the players don't need to be able to see them to feel the support that is there for them.

Blind Soccer is in many ways what sport is really about, the values of teamwork, competition, and fair play are ever present here, and there is no video analysis, big sponsorship or endorsement contracts. No player thinks themselves bigger than the game itself.

The first half gets underway with the Brazilians showing amazing ball control and getting close to scoring on several occasions. Argentina defends strongly and also creates several good chances. Silvio Velo leads the way for Argentina while Brazil's number 9 shows deft balance and an incredible ability to hone in on the ball.

It's a pretty exciting game and it's hard but essential for the crowd to keep quiet so that the players can hear the ball and the calls of teammates and opposition. Play is stopped when a jet takes off from the nearby domestic airport and drowns out all sound.

At halftime its nil all, Brazil have created the most chances but Argentina was perhaps the closest to scoring. The players are guided off and led to their seats for a rest, drink and team talk. The control and orientation the players have as they run around the field is amazing, they go forwards, backwards, and sideways, they know when they are near the side of the pitch and somehow even after falling over or spinning around know exactly which way to run.

The late afternoon sun is going down and a beautiful orange glow fills the sky, it seems a strange twist when the floodlights are switched on to let us sighted spectators see better the magic weaved by the sightless players.

The second half is played with the same skill and intensity as the first with both teams striving hard to score the winning goal. The communication between players defies belief as passes are played forward with ESP vision and picked up by attackers who head towards the goal. It's easy to forget that you are watching blind players in action.

Argentina is awarded a penalty with 5 minutes to go and star player Silvio Velo steps up to take the shot. The crowd waits in nervous silence as he lines up the kick, it's struck sweetly but the goalie just manages to get a hand to it and make the save. In making the save the goalie is injured and play stops as the Brazilian doctor who himself is blind is led on to attend to the sighted goalie. Here on the field these blind athletes make us challenge our preconceptions as well as our senses.

Argentina calls a timeout with less than a minute left in a desperate attempt to conjure up the winning goal. They can't do it though and neither can Brazil and the game goes into extra time. After two 10 minute periods of tension filled extra time still no goal has been scored and the game ends tied 0-0. Unfortunately as in sighted games and modern society a winner must be found and penalties are the regulation manner to find that essential winner and unjust loser.

The penalties are the best of 3 but each team has 6 shots before Brazil emerges victorious. The Brazilians burst into celebration and jump and dance their way around the field in victory. The Argentine players hug each other sad that they have lost but really nobody here is a loser, their attitude to life and sport makes them winners in every sense and there are many lessons to be learnt from these dedicated athletes.

After the game cups and medals are presented to the winners and runners up, the Argentines stand proudly as they receive their medals. Cameras and television crews focus on the player's and its incredibly moving to see these sightless eyes crying.

I hang around for a while on the field after the game to take some photos and feel the atmosphere. It is a special and uplifting moment as the Brazilians share a prayer together while the Argentine players greet fans, family and friends. I feel privileged to have been witness to a wonderful display of sport and sporting values.

For me the most moving moment of the tournament was during the preliminary game between Argentina and Spain when Argentina scored a brilliant goal to break the nil all deadlock. It seemed like an eternity as the goal scorer walked with his arms outstretched until he found one of his teammates to hug and celebrate with. The crowds shouts that followed the goal meant the players could not hear where their teammates were.

Walking home it was dark and difficult to see in the poorly lit streets on which I made my way, I knew though that tomorrow the sun would be up again to light my way. For the blind however they will always be walking in the dark not quite sure what lies around the corner. For them everyday is a challenge. Watching these wonderful athletes and human beings reminded me that "Sometimes we all must look at the world with different eyes"