Football 5-a-side uniquely quiet take on the world’s most popular game is one of the most intriguing things about the Paralympics. Check out some of the best players to ‘silently cheer on’ at Tokyo 2020.
Abderrazak Hattab (MAR)
History-maker Hattab is no stranger to making waves on the pitch. He was part of the Moroccan side that made their debut at Rio 2016, becoming the first African team to compete at a Paralympic Games, and first player from the region to score a goal at that level.
A former goalball player, Hattab made the switch to football 5-a-side in 2013. His first appearance for the national squad came in 2014, followed shortly after with victory at the 2015 African Championships where the Moroccan was the top goal scorer. By 2017 he had become the team captain, leading his side to another regional title before reaching the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Championships…their best ever finish.
Antonio Martin Gaitan (ESP)
Gaitan has been in the Spanish squad at all but one edition of the Paralympic Games. He was part of the sport’s incredible debut at Athens 2004, taking home bronze, and helped his team achieve the same result at London 2012.
Nicknamed El Niño, the now 39-year-old made his national team debut at the tender age of 16 at the height of Spain’s dominance of football 5. His first tournament – the 1999 European Championships – delivered his maiden major title. He would go on to win five more regional crowns with his country and multiple top scorer awards, including at the Euros in 2019.
Froilan Abdul Padilla (ARG)
Padilla has been at the heart of Argentina’s Paralympic renaissance in recent years.
Since joining the squad in 2009, the Argentine defender has featured in the Team of the Tournament at successive World Championships in 2014 and 2018. He also helped his side to four Americas and Parapan American Games finals.
But perhaps most importantly ‘Coki’, as he is known, was instrumental in returning Argentina to the Paralympic podium for the first time since Beijing 2008 at Rio 2016.
Although he has been part of the Brazilian football squad for 15 years, it was not until his home Paralympics that the world knew who the ‘Paralympic Pele’ really was.
Jefferson Goncalves, more known as Jefinho, shot to global fame when his country hosted Rio 2016 and his team carried the hopes of one of world’s greatest footballing nations on their shoulders. The Brazilian scored both goals in their 2-1 semi-final win over China before featuring heavily in their 1-0 victory over Iran for gold.
Jefinho has been part of all but one of Brazil’s Paralympic winning sides over the years. His reputation as one of the best footballers of his generation is no coincidence.
Jiansen Wei (CHN)
Jiansen Wei has helped maintain China’s place amongst the world’s top teams since they burst onto the Paralympic podium on their debut at Beijing 2008.
Stepping out for the national team for the first time at the 2014 Asian Para Games, Wei went on to score his first goal at the Paralympics in 2016. China would come close to a return to the top three in Rio de Janeiro, but lost to Argentina in the bronze medal match.
Wei’s star qualities did not go unnoticed and in 2017 he was made team captain. Repaying the faith shown by his coaches, a year later China stood on the World Championships podium with Wei named in the Team of the Tournament.
With his versatility in attack and defence, Wei represents a new generation of Chinese football players.
It is hard to imagine a more iconic football 5-a-side player than the man known as Ricardo Alves, commonly known as Ricardinho.
For more than a decade he has been at the centre of a stunning Brazilian team that have claimed every Paralympic title and have taken the trophy at the last three World Championships.
He captained the team to victory at their home Paralympics in 2016, walking out in front of 3,000 adoring home fans in the final against Iran and scoring the winning goal. But anyone that thinks Ricardinho has peaked can think again. He scored his 100th goal for his country at the 2017 Americas Championships, and in 2018 he was the top scorer at the Worlds, repeating his performance from 2014.
Having lost his sight at the age of 8 along with what he thought were his hopes of becoming a professional footballer, Ricardinho’s career is what dreams are made of.
Maximiliano Espinillo (ARG)
The rivalry between Brazil and Argentina in football 5 is as exciting as it is in the sighted game. Whilst Brazil have been the dominant force, players like Maximiliano Espinillo have emerged to shake those foundations in recent years.
After joining the national team in 2013 ‘Maxi’, as he is known, has been a core part of an Argentinian squad that have pushed Brazil harder and harder. At the 2014 Worlds, at which Maxi made his debut, Brazil needed a penalty strike to win gold. Then in 2017 he helped end their 57-match unbeaten run with a winning penalty in the final of the Americas Championships. That was Argentina’s first regional title since 2005.
With players like Maxi, Los Murcielagos – The Bats – have a promising future.
©Haruo Wanibe / Japan Blind Football Association
Frederic Villeroux (FRA)
Few players make scoring goals look as easy as French captain Frederic Villeroux. It is for this reason, and the fact that he has achieved a better scoring average, that the Frenchman has been compared to Lionel Messi.
In the 2013/14 club season, Villeroux netted 102 goals in 42 games playing for FC Girondins de Bordeaux. He is also one of the only athletes still playing to have ran out at the debut of football 5-a-side at Athens 2004.
Villeroux has been a constant throughout France’s highs and lows in the sport. He captained them to silver at London 2012 before missing out on qualification at Rio 2016. Then in 2019 he was named player of the tournament as he helped return his country to the Paralympic stage with European silver.
Ryo Kawamura (JPN)
Japanese team captain Ryo Kawamura has the skill and experience to lead the host nation out at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Kawamura became the first Japanese player ever to score against Brazil in 2013, shortly after losing his sight completely and joining the national squad.
The striker led the team to bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships, cementing the progress made over several years as Japan have built towards the Paralympics. Thanks to the leadership of Kawamura, the country can now say they are one of Asia’s strongest sides.
©Japan Blind Football Association