The uniquely calm interpretation of the world’s most popular game of blind football is one of the most fascinating things about the Paralympics. Check out some of the best players to “quietly cheer” on in Tokyo 2020.
Abderrazak Hattab, Morocco
The historian Hattab is no stranger to making waves on the square. He was part of the Moroccan team that debuted in Rio in 2016. He was the first African team to compete in the Paralympic Games and the first player from the region to score a goal at this level.
The former goalball player Hattab switched to blind football in 2013. His first appearance for the national team came in 2014, shortly afterwards he won the African Championships in 2015, in which the Moroccan was the top scorer. He was team captain until 2017, leading his squad to yet another regional title before reaching the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup … their best ever result.
Antonio Martin Gaitan, Spain
Gaitan was in all but one edition of the Paralympic Games in the Spanish squad. He was part of the sport’s incredible debut in Athens in 2004, taking home bronze and helping his team achieve the same result in London in 2012.
The now 39-year-old, nicknamed El Niño, made his national team debut at the tender age of 16 at the height of the Spanish dominance of blind football. His first tournament – the 1999 European Championship – earned him his first major title. He would win five more regional crowns and several top scorer awards with his country, including at the EM 2019.
Froilan Abdul Padilla, Argentina
Padilla has been at the heart of Argentina’s Paralympic renaissance in recent years.
Since joining the squad in 2009, the Argentine defender has been on the tournament’s team at consecutive World Cups in 2014 and 2018. He also helped his team in four finals in the America and Para American Games.
But perhaps most importantly, “Coki”, as he is known, was instrumental in getting Argentina back on the Paralympic podium for the first time since Beijing 2008 in Rio 2016.
Jefinho (Jefferson Goncalves), Brazil
Although he has been part of the Brazilian blind football team for 15 years, it wasn’t until his Paralympics that the world knew who the “Paralympic Pele” really was.
Jefinho achieved world fame when his country hosted Rio 2016 and his team carried the hopes of one of the world’s greatest footballing nations on their shoulders. The Brazilian scored both goals in the 2-1 semi-final win over China before going strong in the 1-0 win over Iran for gold.
Jefinho has been part of all but one of Brazil’s Paralympic winning teams over the years. His reputation as one of the best blind soccer players of his generation is no coincidence.
Jiansen Wei, China
Jiansen Wei has helped maintain China’s place among the top teams in the world since stepping onto the Paralympic podium on their Beijing debut in 2008.
Wei made his first appearance for the national team at the Asian Para Games 2014 and scored his first goal at the Paralympics in 2016. China would be on the verge of returning to the top three in Rio de Janeiro, but lost to Argentina in the bronze medal game.
Wei’s star qualities did not go unnoticed and in 2017 he was appointed team captain. In recognition of the trust of its coaches, China stood on the World Cup podium a year later and Wei was accepted into the team of the tournament.
With his versatility in attack and defense, Wei represents a new generation of Chinese blind soccer players.
© Madrid 2018
Ricardinho (Ricardo Alves), Brazil
You can hardly imagine a more iconic blind soccer player than the man known as Ricardinho.
For more than a decade, he has been at the center of an impressive Brazilian team that has won every Paralympic title and the trophy in the last three world championships.
He led the team to victory at the 2016 Paralympics at home, went in the final against Iran in front of 3,000 enthusiastic home fans and scored the winning goal. But anyone who thinks Ricardinho has peaked can think again. He scored his 100th goal for his country at the 2017 Americas Championships, and was the top scorer at the World Cup in 2018, repeating his 2014 performance.
After Ricardinho lost his sight at the age of 8 and hoped to become a professional footballer, Ricardinho’s career is a dream.
Maximiliano Espinillo, Argentina
The rivalry between Brazil and Argentina in blind football is just as exciting as in the sighted game. While Brazil has been the dominant force, players like Maximiliano Espinillo have shaken those foundations in recent years.
After joining the national team in 2013, “Maxi”, as he is known, was at the heart of an Argentine squad who challenged Brazil more and more. At the 2014 World Cup, where Maxi made his debut, Brazil needed a penalty to win gold. He then helped end their undefeated streak of 57 games in 2017 with a penalty shoot-out in the Americas Championships final. That was Argentina’s first regional title since 2005.
With players like Maxi, Los Murcielagos – The Bats – have a bright future.
© Washington Alves / EXEMPLUS / CPB
Frederic Villeroux, France
Few players make it as easy to score as French captain Frederic Villeroux. For this reason, and the fact that he had a better point average, the Frenchman has been compared to Lionel Messi.
In the 2013/14 club season, Villeroux scored 102 goals in 42 games for FC Girondins de Bordeaux. He is also one of the few athletes still playing to go out in the 2004 Athens debut football for the blind.
Villeroux has been a constant in France’s ups and downs in sport. He led her to silver in London in 2012 before missing out on qualifying in Rio 2016. He was named Player of the Tournament in 2019 when he helped bring his country back to the Paralympic stage with European silver.
© Lautaro Cheppi
Ryo Kawamura, Japan
Japanese team captain Ryo Kawamura has the skills and experience to lead the host country at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Kawamura became the first Japanese player to score against Brazil in 2013 shortly after he completely lost his eyesight and was accepted into the national team.
The striker led the team to bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships, cementing the progress Japan has made over several years on the path to the Paralympics. Thanks to the leadership of Kawamura, the country can now call itself one of the strongest sides in Asia.
© Japanese Football Association for the Blind