Wednesday, September 5, 2012
London, England — Yesterday at London’s Riverbank Arena, Brazil’s 5-a-side blind football team took on China in both teams’ final game of group play. Brazil won 1–0, topping Group B.
Both teams came into the game with similar records. Each had one win and a draw, and were tied on goal difference. A win would see them through to the finals. In case of a draw, the two sides would be reduced to drawing lots.
Brazil won gold in 5-a-side football at both past Paralympic Games where it was included — Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008 where they defeated China 2–1 in the final. China won silver in Beijing even though they had no national team prior to hosting the Games there.
There were about 150 people in the crowd at the Riverbank Arena when the game began, although this swelled to over 500 after half time. The weather was sunny and warm. There were a number of flags on display in the crowd, including the flags of Brazil, Turkey and France, and the ubiquitous Union Flag.
The two teams had different rituals when their national anthems were played. The Brazilians had their hands over their hearts, whereas the Chinese stood at attention and sang while theirs was played. Most startlingly, they threw their hands up in the air and shouted at the end.
Five-a-side football players wear blindfolds to insure a level playing field, as some blind people are more blind than others. However, the goalkeepers are sighted, and, like the goalkeepers in regular football, can use their hands. When ball is in play, spectators are asked to be keep silent so the players can hear the ball, which has bells in it. It was quite loud, and audible from the bleachers. It is also heavier than a regular football. There are three guides for each team who tell players where the ball is.
The blue artificial surface — the same used for the hockey during the Olympics — could be slippery at times. Occasionally the players would run into each other or the goal post. At one point, the Brazilian goalkeeper stopped the ball with his crotch, which caused his to fall to the ground writing in pain. The umpire cautioned him at one point but never produced any coloured cards.
The playing field is smaller than a regular football pitch, and the goal is small. The pitch has walls on the sides that help to rebound the sound and the ball itself. Bouncing the ball of the side is a standard tactic. The rules are fairly similar to eleven-a-side football. The game consists of two 25 minute halves with a 10 minute break between halves. There is no off-side rule.
Both sides played defensively, with three players back and one forward, so there was little passing but a lot of foot skill. In earlier games they played with two forward and two back. As a rule, the Brazilians favoured a more open style of play. The game was fairly even early on. Brazil had a couple of good shots at goal that the Chinese goal keeper was lucky to stop. China’s Wang Zhoubin also had a shot at goal that bounced off the goal post with a resounding noise.
About 21 minutes in, Brazil’s Jeferson da Conceicai Goncalves scored the first goal. His teammates jumped all over field, and guides walked the players to the team celebration.
After half time, the defensive game continued, although Brazil started sending another player forward. Chinese attacks tended to still be from a single player. Shortly after halftime, a mix up saw two Brazilian defenders compete for the ball, and they nearly scored an own goal. Wang then made a spectacular shot which missed the goal.
As the second half wore on, China switched to a two-forward formation. Li Xiaoqiang and Wang pressed a series of attacks, which garnered a lot of ooohs from the crowd but nothing on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Brazil continued aggressively, with Marcos Jose Alves Felipe in particular looking threatening.
The Brazilian contingent in the crowd roared loudly at the final siren. Asked how he felt to have made the semifinals, Brazil Coach Ramon Pereira de Souza said: “I have no words. My happiness is shaped on all the faces of the players and coaches in the team. It was a difficult game. It is the passage to the next stage. Facing China is not like facing any other team. China has spectacular players.”