Brazil have long been a seedbed for the world’s top football talent. At Tokyo 2020, a blend of experience and youthful promise secured their fifth consecutive Paralympic football 5-a-side gold medal.
While the goalscoring magic of Brazilian blind football striker Raimundo Nonato captured the main headlines, behind the curtain was a prominent display of attacking flair and technical brilliance from Paralympic debutant Jardiel Vieira Soares.
Born in Pinheiro, Maranhão, with congenital blindness due to toxoplasmosis, Jardiel lives with his wife in João Pessoa, Paraíba and comes from a family of three sisters and one brother. His love for football emanated from listening to his father follow top Brazilian football club Flamengo on the television as a child.
At the age of 15, Jardiel tried football 5-a-side in 2012 through attending a social action event in São Luis with his school, learning the important skills required for the sport. Upon returning home, his mother received a call to participate in a School Games being the only student old enough to compete. He was resistant to leave his homestead and play the sport as he was focused on his deeply infused passion for drumming in church, but his mother convinced him to go and the experience changed his mind.
“I wanted to continue playing. The following year, I participated in the same competition and then I told my mother that I wanted to go to São Luís to join the team. My first championships were in 2014 and from then I realized that this was what I wanted in my life.”
Two months after competing in his first championships, Jardiel was invited to the under 23 national team in December 2014. He felt the youth team helped him “mature as an athlete” and learn a lot from head coach Fábio Vasconcelos to transition to the senior national team. In June 2015, he was bumped up to train with the likes of Jefinho, Ricardinho and under 23 product Tiago Da Silva in the senior national team.
His debut for the Brazil’s senior national team, along with several youth team players, came at the Rio 2016 International Challenge. However, Jardiel’s Copa America debut in Sao Paulo in 2019 impressed him the most.
“I was called up and very happy. I scored five goals in that competition. I will never forget.”
His Copa America performance appeared to also impress coach Fábio who called the wonderkid into the 10-man squad for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Jardiel could not have asked for a better Paralympic debut than winning gold with his country.
“It’s a unique feeling on the debut to win a gold medal. I’ve dreamed of participating in the Paralympics. Besides having had a good competition and having played well, I got the gold, which is every athlete’s dream,” he said.
He announced himself on the pinnacle stage at Tokyo 2020 in his first start against France in Brazil’s third group match, where he netted a brace to help Brazil win 4-0.
“The first goal was pure opportunism, a pivotal move, which Nonato shot and, when the ball was falling from the crossbar, I managed to push it into the goal. And the second was a play that is a characteristic of mine, of speed, catching the ball, cutting inside and hitting.
"In the first one, the feeling was unique for having scored my first goal in the Paralympics. I will never forget that moment.”
Jardiel admitted that his Paralympic debut was filled with nerves, but felt his own experience and that of his teammates coupled with his supportive coach gave him the advantage.
© OIS/Joel Marklund
“I was cool, always with the thought of going in and playing well. And I managed to play a good role in the times I was required. I did what I do best, which is to play blind football. The group is already quite experienced, and they gave me all their support and confidence. Coach Fábio left me very calm, and, little by little, the nervousness wore off.”
Finishing the competition as Brazil’s joint second top goalscorer with Ricardinho, Jardiel is a promising star to continue Brazil’s football 5-a-side legacy.
“I think I performed well. The times I had the opportunity to enter the matches, I managed to do my best and do what I had been trained to do. If I do everything the coaching staff asks me to do, I have a great chance of gaining a foothold in the squad and being able to play a lot with these stars that make up the squad.”
With the dream of winning Paralympic gold achieved, Jardiel turns his focus to winning the Brazilian championship title with his club side Apace. When asked what advice he would give to young players aspiring to represent their national blind football team, the young star said:
“Have a lot of focus and discipline. Sometimes, what we dream, we don’t even imagine will happen. We have to seek, train and dedicate ourselves, because the time will come, when we least expect it.”