The last regional championship of the blind football calendar year is set to begin in Africa. The 2019 Blind Football African Championships will kick off today in Enugu, Nigeria, and run until 1 December.
The stakes are high at the fourth edition of the competition as the winners of the coveted African title will gain the last football 5-a-side qualification slot for Tokyo 2020.
Thanks to the Bina Foundation, Nigeria will host the African Championships for the first time ever at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, and the Nigerian team captain captain Oba Azubuike is excited to lead infront of home fans.
"To spearhead the Nigerian blind football national team gives me a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Blind football is at a nascent stage in Nigeria but its popularity is growing," said an excited Azubuike adding that some African countries have already been in the game for some years.
"With the level of our preparedness and determination, our expectation going into the competition is to not just participate, but to win and represent Africa at Tokyo 2020. Football means a whole lot of new opportunities and gateway to empowerment, especially for the blind and visually impaired," felt Azubuike.
Morocco will be the team to overthrow as the three-time undisputed champions, holding a ten-game unbeaten run spread across the 2014, 2015 and 2017 editions of the African Championships. The reigning champions have enjoyed enormous success over the past half-decade, becoming the first blind football national team in Africa to qualify for the Paralympic Games at Rio 2016, and the IBSA Blind Football World Championships at the 2014 edition in Tokyo, Japan.
“We will use all means to keep our African Championship title knowing that blind football is continuously developing in Africa. We have strong chances to qualify for Tokyo 2020 because we have a lot of young players who will be our successors,” said Morocco’s striker Abderrazak Hattab, whose 16 goals at the 2017 edition helped his nation win the title and saw him walk away with the Top Goalscorer and Player of the Tournament awards.
Mali will hope to rectify their mistakes from their 8-1 defeat to Morocco in the final of the 2017 African Championships. The ‘Eagles’ have undergone intense preparation for the competition, and their captain Mamadou Thiam believes they are in prime position to win the African Championships in Nigeria.
“I think the African Championships is a big and difficult competition, but we have prepared with our proper tools available and we are ready. We are going to this African Championships prepared for everyone.
"Every team is important to us. We see every team as our rival, but Morocco is the key one. We will focus on every match that we have to win. I think we lost the last final because our lack of efficacy and we didn’t manage our own game. This time we are ready for this and have corrected our laxes,” said Thiam.
More information on how to follow the competition is available on IBSA Football's website.