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Nigeria’s amputee football team prepares ahead of World Cup debut

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Nigeria’s national amputee football team gather to pray before the start of a training session in a bare field at the national stadium in Surulere district in Lagos, Nigeria July 6, 2018. Picture taken July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Emmanuel Ibeawuchi, captain of Nigeria’s national football amputee team will lead the country’s Special Eagles at the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico this October. Staying positive despite the poor performance of the country’s Super Eagles at the World Cup tournament in Russia, Emmanuel is confident that they will bring the cup home.

“Amputee football in Nigeria, we are the best in the world, so Super Eagles or no Super Eagles, in football, one leg or two legs, football is football so there is no difference between one leg and two legs when you come in terms of football because it is the same rules.”

“We have seen the vision and we want to play it to the highest level that is why we continue struggling, trying to survive, coming every day. Some of my players we came from far places and I also, so we come, we train. So today now we are planning for the World Cup, the biggest tournament in the world, and we are very grateful and we are glad and we are happy that Nigeria, we are going for the tournament, not only even going, I believe we are going there to bring the cup home.”

“You know right now, all my fans and my family, they are expecting the cup to Nigeria and I also promised them. You know it is not by my power but I believe that what I can play and what the team will unite to play, I believe the team will bring the trophy.”

“Most of them being that they see themselves as disabled, they believe they will depend on the society, but since they have the — you know we have put it in them that they should see themselves as equally good as an able person and they know they can do that, so since then all of them they have the confidence now that they can even do better than the able body.”

“Many people don’t know about the team, so I think for them to have supporters they have to grow in kind of publicity like, let people know that this is what is coming on and this is what we are doing and I think with that they will have supporters.”

Sixteen years after Emmanuel Ibeawuchi lost one of his legs in a road accident, his dream of playing soccer in a World Cup tournament is about to become a reality.

Ibeawuchi will captain Nigeria’s team when the country makes its first appearance at the Amputee Football World Cup, taking place in Mexico in October.

The team hopes to follow a tradition which has seen Nigeria’s disabled athletes achieve success in the last few years.

Nigeria won eight gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics, along with two silver and two bronze medals, to finish 17th in the medal table and top among African countries.

“Amputee football in Nigeria, we are the best in the world, so Super Eagles or no Super Eagles, in football, one leg or two legs, football is football so there is no difference between one leg and two legs when you come in terms of football because it is the same rules,” said 38-year-old Ibeawuchi.

The footballer lost his right leg after a motor accident on his way home to eastern Nigeria in 2002.

He started playing football after his leg was amputated.

Ibeawuchi is married with three sons and takes them to his games so they can develop interest in the sport.

The amputee tournament will be held just months after the World Cup in Russia where Nigeria’s team, known as the Super Eagles, failed to qualify from the group stage of the tournament.

The squad, comprising of lithe players who traverse the pitch on crutches, have been training in the southwestern commercial capital of Lagos.

“We have seen the vision and we want to play it to the highest level that is why we continue struggling, trying to survive, coming every day. Some of my players we came from far places and I also, so we come, we train. So today now we are planning for the World Cup, the biggest tournament in the world, and we are very grateful and we are glad and we are happy that Nigeria, we are going for the tournament, not only even going, I believe we are going there to bring the cup home,” said Ibeawuchi.

“You know right now, all my fans and my family, they are expecting the cup to Nigeria and I also promised them. You know it is not by my power but I believe that what I can play and what the team will unite to play, I believe the team will bring the trophy,” said Monday Williams, who also plays in the team.

Like many cities across Africa, there are few facilities in public spaces for disabled people in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of around 23 million people.

The same is true across Africa’s most populous country of 190 million inhabitants, which the team’s coach – Victor Nwewe says contributed to a lack of visibility for disabled people.

Football has helped boost the confidence of players.

“Most of them being that they see themselves as disabled, they believe they will depend on the society, but since they have the — you know we have put it in them that they should see themselves as equally good as an able person and they know they can do that, so since then all of them they have the confidence now that they can even do better than the able body,” said Nwewe.

“Many people don’t know about the team, so I think for them to have supporters they have to grow in kind of publicity like, let people know that this is what is coming on and this is what we are doing and I think with that they will have supporters,” said Gifted Kinini, a Lagos resident.

The team known as the Special Eagles hopes to outperform their counterpart’s short-lived appearance at the World Cup where they were eliminated in the group stages by Argentina in a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat.


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