"People still stop me on the streets and say we have made them proud. I still have room for more medals at home. If one day I get short of space I can find a bigger house.”
It has been 13 months since Ricardo Alves’ goal won Brazil the football 5-a-side Paralympic gold medal in front of an ecstatic home crowd in Rio. Since scoring that goal, the Brazilian says the perceptions of blind football and Para sports in his country have completely changed.
“There is no doubt that the Paralympic Games in Brazil and our goal medal brought a lot of visibility to the sport. I have noticed that since the end of the Rio 2016 Games. People still stop me on the streets and say we have made them proud,” said Ricardinho, as he is best known in Brazil.
But there is another reason, more personal one, for the 28-year-old to choose the lone goal in the Paralympic Games final against Iran as his favourite ever.
“I had broken my left leg and damaged the ligaments early in the year so I wasn’t sure I would make it to the Paralympics. But I managed to be fully fit for the final and scored the goal that gave Brazil its fourth 5-a-side gold medal. It still makes me feel emotional.”
Rio 2016 was Alves’ third Paralympic gold. He has also won two World Championship titles and three Parapan American Games gold medals. Less known, perhaps, is the striker’s success at club level. Ricardinho won the Brazilian league with Agafuc for the second time on Sunday in Salvador.
“I still have room for more medals at home. If one day I get short of space I can find a bigger house,” Alves joked. “We don’t rest on our laurels. Now we are focused on the next World Championships [Madrid 2018].”
Brazil has been the team to beat in football 5-a-side for almost a decade but Ricardinho believes the team can still surprise the opponents.
“People will always put Brazil as favourites before every tournament because of all we have achieved. But it doesn’t make any difference when the match starts. Our preparations have been even better than in previous competitions. Our coach is always looking at ways to make us improve and have different alternatives.”
As for the other teams that can try to put an end in Brazil’s winning streak, the best blind footballer in the world expects Iran to come strong again next year while he does not forget the local rivals.
“Iran did a great work to come to the final in Rio and I believe they can get even better. We know there will be other good teams in the World Championships. Argentina has a lot of tradition and China has a great record in major tournaments. But we will keep on doing what we have always done: our focus is always to give our best.”