Preview: Blind soccer at the Tokyo Paralympics

 

All you need to know about blind (or 5-a-side) soccer at the Tokyo Paralympics. We run down our top 5 facts and shine a spotlight on each of the teams taking part.
 

The big blind soccer Paralympic kick off

 
The 5-a-side soccer (or blind soccer) kicks-off at the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 on 29th August (2021) with three days of group games. The semi-finals get underway on 2nd September with the final on the 4th September.

All matches are to be held at the Aomi Urban Sports Venue in Tokyo.

You can find a full schedule on the Paralympics website.

 

Five blind soccer Paralympic facts

 

  1. Blind soccer is one of three sports at the Paralympics exclusively for athletes with vision impairments.
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  3. Blind is relatively new to the Paralympics, having debuted at Athens 2004. Six countries competed in the inaugural tournament: Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, South Korea and Spain.
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  5. The game has some adaptations from the 11-a-side version. For example, there is no off-side rule and the goalkeeper has a smaller, rectangular area which they must stay inside. There is also silence from fans during games. This allows the players to hear the ball (which has a sound device inside), other players and instructions from guides behind the goals.
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  7. he players use a sound ball so that they can track where the ball is on the pitch The Goalfix Stryker96 sound soccer ball was named after the year that blind soccer became an International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) official sport. After establishing internationally recognised rules the following year saw the first IBSA tournaments. The European Championships held in Barcelona, Spain, and the first American Championships in Asunción, Paraguay.
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  9. Classification ensures all Para athletes can compete on a level playing field. All outfield players must be eligible for a single class: B1. This means they have severe levels of vision impairment such as low visual acuity and/or no light perception.

 
Athletes must also wear eyeshades during games. The exception is the goalkeeper, who cannot leave the area, and is sighted or partially sighted. In Tokyo all competitors must wear the Goalfix Eclipse eyeshades to ensure 100% blackout and a level playing field for all those taking part.

 

Spotlight on the teams

 

Argentina

Argentina currently sit at the top of the IBSA world rankings following a recent run of good results.

Earlier this year the team won the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Blind soccer World Grand Prix title in Shinagawa, Japan.

Staged as a precursor to the Tokyo Paralympics, Argentina lifted the trophy after a 2-0 victory over hosts Japan in the final. Star player Maximiliano Espinillo scored both goals as Argentina finished the tournament with four wins and one draw.

As you might expect from the world’s number ranked team, Argentina boasts a fine international pedigree. However If they want to win this tournament they are going to have to overcome their arch nemesis, Brazil.

They lost in the final of the most recent major international tournament, the IBSA Blind soccer World Championships in 2018, to Paralympic favourites Brazil.

This was the fourth time they finished runner up to Brazil in this competition, although they have won the competition twice themselves in the tournament’s 23 year history.

Argentina also finished second to Brazil in the most recent American Championships in Sao Paulo in 2019 but overcame them on penalties in the previous final to win the tournament in 2017.

 

Brazil

Brazil are the undisputed kings of blind soccer at the Paralympics.

They are 22 games unbeaten in the competition since the sport’s debut at Athens in 2004. The team will be looking to secure a fifth straight Paralympic five-a-side soccer title when they compete at Tokyo 2020 after success at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

The team has also dominated pretty much every other competition since the formation of the IBSA in 1996.

They have won the World Championships on 5 out of 7 occasions (coming second and third at the other two tournaments). This includes victories in the last three tournaments.

They have also won the Americas Championship on multiple occasions. Before defeat to Argentina in 2017 they went on a 57 match unbeaten run in all competitions, including the Americas Championship.

It’s hard to envisage them finishing outside the top three and you’d be brave to bet against them winning the competition for a 5th time.

 

China

China are the undisputed heavyweight champions of Asian soccer and have won five of the last 6 Asian Championship titles between 2007 and 2019 (coming runner up in the other).

The team qualified for Tokyo 2020 courtesy of winning the Asian Championships in Pattaya 2019 where they defeated Iran to win the title.

At the Paralympics they won silver at their home games in 2008. This was the national team’s Paralympic debut and their best performance so far, topping the group and narrowly losing to Brazil, 2-1 in the gold medal match. At Rio 2016, they missed out on bronze after losing to Argentina 1-0 on penalties.

The team has also taken 3rd place on two occasions at the IBSA Blind soccer World Championships. Most recently in Madrid (2018) where they defeated Russia 2-1 to win their second bronze medal.

Surprisingly China have not played any friendlies or in any major tournaments since the 2019 Asian Championships, but according to the IBSA sports website the national team have been running intensive training camps in preparation for the games. One source claims that the team has been conducting closed training sessions for more than 400 days in Qingyuan City.

Like Argentina they have been one of the few sides who seem capable of beating Brazil to the gold medal. However their lack of competitive soccer over the last couple of years may count against them in this tournament.

 

France

France has something of a mixed record in blind soccer. They are currently ranked 14th in the world. The lowest of any of the teams playing in Tokyo this summer.

They were silver medallists at London 2012 but failed to qualify for Rio. This will be their third Paralympic Games, qualifying for Tokyo 2020 by claiming silver at the 2019 Euros.

In the previous Euros (2017) they finished 4th. However they only managed a 15th place finish at the 2018 World Championships and they have never made it past the quarter finals of the World Championships.

They have two other major achievements. A silver at the IBSA World Games in 2011 (in a tournament that didn’t contain the likes of Brazil or Argentina).  In 2009 they lifted their 1st European Championship trophy after a 3-1 win over England in the final.

It’s fair to say that France have struggled in recent years to re-find the form that made them the number one team in Europe. There has been some steady progress since their terrible performance in 2018 but it’s hard to envisage them upsetting the likes of Brazil, Argentina or even China in Tokyo.

 

Japan

The team qualified for the Paralympics by virtue of being the host nation.

Japan had a successful campaign at the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Grand Prix at the start of June. They made it to the final where they were eventually beaten by Argentina.

Japan has never won a major tournament, but has been runners up twice in the Asian Championships.

They’ll be hoping to make the most of their home advantage in Tokyo but a podium finish is probably outside the capabilities of the worlds number 12 ranked team.

 

Morocco

Morocco are the current African champions and were the first side from the region to compete at a Paralympics (Rio 2016). They dominate blind soccer in Africa, winning all four of the African championships.

The Atlas Lions, as they are nicknamed, claimed their place at Tokyo 2020 after beating Mali 5-1 in the final of the continental competition.

They did not make it out of the group stages in the previous Paralympics. They will be hoping to go one step further this year by qualifying for the second round of matches.

Ranked 10th in the world it seems unlikely that this team will be able to overcome the giants of the game to secure a podium finish this time around.

 

Spain

Spain are pioneers of the sport. They started a version of the game at schools for people with vision impairments in the 1920s.

The team have been consistent performers on the world stage and are the dominant force in European blind soccer.

They are twice beaten finalists in the World Championships, where they have also recorded 3 third place finishes.

They have won the European championships on 7 out of 11 occasions and have never failed to reach the semi finals.

The team is currently ranked 3rd in the world. They will be hoping that they have enough quality to break the South American dominance and add to their 2 Olympic bronze medals.

 

Thailand

Like Japan, Thailand also put in a great performance at the World Grand Prix. They beat Spain and France to secure a place in the third-place playoff, eventually losing out to Spain 1-0.

This is their first Paralympic games and not a great deal is expected of them.

They have yet to win a major honour. Their best showing at a major championships is third place finish at the 2017 Asian Championships.

The world number 13th ranked team is unlikely to challenge for honours at the Paralympics this year.

 

Goalfix Sports is a specialist supplier of adaptive sports equipment and high quality soccer goals. We supply a range of IBSA approved equipment for blind soccer, including to the Tokyo Olympic games.