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World Cup 2014 : 18 years and running: Mexico football tournament for the blind

AP  MEXICO CITY, June 17, 2014
First Published: 18:50 IST(17/6/2014) | Last Updated: 19:28 IST(17/6/2014)

As nations from around the globe battle in the World Cup, a more unusual soccer championship has just been decided on a hard court in Mexico's capital.

For 18 years, the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired have spent Sundays traveling long distances from their homes to central Mexico City to play the country's most popular sport.

Each six-man team is allowed one sighted player or two visually impaired players who can use their eyes on the court. All other players wear blindfolds to make sure they are evenly matched.

Without their eyes to guide them, they rely on the sound of a special ball ricocheting off the boards that surround the court or is rolling at their feet. Risking collisions and falls, the players pass, shoot, defend and occasionally even slide tackle.

Italia's Jose Luis Molina (left), 44, controls the ball during the final match against Leones Negros in Mexico City. Molina, a lifelong sportsman who lost his sight completely at the age of 13, says he feels comfortable playing any position. "If you form a team, you'll invite me, because I may be able to make you win." Molina's wife of 24 years, Maria Luisa Vicente says he is also a great example for their children, two of whom are visually impaired. (AP Photo)

When the league started, players used a soda can filled with pebbles to make noise, said Miguel Angel Canela, who plays goalkeeper for the Italia team. Then they began putting ball bearings into store-bought soccer balls.

Today, Canela, a 51-year-old industrial mechanic who lost his sight in a work-related accident at age 23, makes the special balls from scratch using a mould in his home workshop.

Jose Luis Molina, 44, a lifelong athlete who lost his sight at age 13, said positions on the pitch are fluid: "All of us like to be out front because we want to score."

A player scores a penalty in a mixed-team match following the league final, in Mexico City. Since players follow the movement of the ball by its sound, airborne shots are particularly hard for goalkeepers to anticipate. (AP Photo)

Molina said his sense of orientation, as well as his ability to read his environment by sound, are well-developed after years of commuting into the capital. During the week, he sings and plays guitar as part of "Los Hunos," a respected all-blind street band that draws a crowd even on rainy days as it plays outside a central subway station.

The six-team league is a rare outlet for the blind and visually impaired community, league president Javier Mosqueda Lomeli said. "For us, this is important because we have almost no recreational spaces. Here, we play soccer, the family comes. It's a way to let off steam after working all week."

Marco Antonio Camarillo, 53, who plays for Leones Negros, knew his wife was watching from the stands during Sunday's final.

Medals for track and field hang on the wall of Miguel Angel Canela's home workshop, along with a matchup of favorite teams made for him by a relative, in the Valle de Chalco area of Estado de Mexico. Canela says he has been an athlete all his life, and losing his sight at age 23 did not stop him. "I love it," he says of playing soccer. "It enthralls me." (AP Photo)

"She is afraid of me being hit, or falling, but she shares my love of football," he said. Camarillo had several collisions during the game, but came away pleased that he was able to score a goal.

Canela said he thrives on the adrenaline.

"The goalie gets the hardest time, but I like playing rough," he said. "It hurts, it hurts. But then it goes away."

Jose Luis Molina (centre) celebrates with Italia teammates after they defeated the Leones Negros 6-5 in the 2014 final of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired. "The concept of this league is just to spend time together, to unwind, to relieve stress, to relax," says Molina. (AP Photo)

Italia eked out a 6-5 victory in the final. As the match ended, Leones Negros' Camarillo was engulfed in a group hug from his rivals on the winning team.

"On the court, as in the farthest corners of the Earth, there is rivalry, there are fights, there are spats," Molina said. "But socially, it's harmonious."


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