Argentina’s Nicolas Veliz believes his side can secure qualification for the blind football competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on their next opportunity – the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games.
Los Murciélagos – The Bats – as Argentina call themselves, made it into the final of the 2018 World Championships in Madrid, Spain, in June. However they were beaten by long-term foes Brazil who grabbed the qualification spot for the Paralympics with a 2-0 win.
Argentina enjoyed a great run in the group stages of Madrid 2018, going unbeaten with two wins and a draw to advance to the knock-out stages. They then beat England and Russia* to face Brazil.
“I think the team did a very good job during the World Cup, growing in his performance and showing great collective work,” said Veliz, who scored three goals during the competition.
“I had a good tournament. I scored some goals for my team, although I would have wanted to do some more. In general terms it was a good tournament for me.”
The final was a re-match of the gold medal game from the 2017 Americas Championships in Santiago de Chile, Chile. There Argentina overcame their Brazilian rivals 2-1 from the penalty spot.
“I think that in the final of the Copa América it was a very disputed match, but in the final of the World Cup we could generate more chances,” Veliz said, reflecting on how his team improved between 2017 and 2018.
“In the final of Chile 2017 we could get to penalties and win in that way but in Madrid, individual players could unbalance us.”
Now with the next qualification opportunity for Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, Argentina are back in training. They get together once a month for four days in Buenos Aires at the National High Performance Centre.
There they have use of the accommodation, gym, medical facilities and a blind football pitch.
Veliz believes that Argentina’s set-up and focus will lead them to the next Paralympics:
“I am very confident that if we work very hard we will achieve our classification to the Paralympic Games during the Parapan Ams in Lima [Peru] in 2019.”
Veliz, who has been blind since the age of five due to retinoblastomas, has played football since he was very young. Then at the age of 12 he found a local blind football club in the city of Cordoba.
The 27-year-old made his Paralympic debut for Argentina at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. He scored in the group stages against Spain before making an appearance in Argentina’s win over China in the bronze medal match.
“Football is a great passion for me. I always dreamed of representing my country in a World Cup or a Paralympic Games, and I consider that I am fulfilling my dream through this sport,” Veliz said.
Football will feature eight teams at Tokyo 2020.
*Editor's note: The International Paralympic Committee suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee on 7 August 2016 for its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory). As a result of the suspension, Russian athletes cannot enter IPC sanctioned events or competitions, including the Paralympic Games.