Bats soar to new heights
Who would have imagined it? In a year when almost all of Argentina's national teams suffered disappointment in their respective international tournaments, it fell to the Murcielagos (Bats) to bring a little joy to their compatriots.
After a fiercely contested final at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Association) Futsal World Championship in Buenos Aires, the Argentine national team beat their neighbours and rivals Brazil to retain their title and their predominant position in the sport.
The tournament, which had the support and financial backing of FIFA, took place between 24 and 30 November at Buenos Aires's National Centre for Sporting Excellence (CENARD) and was testimony to the continued growth the discipline is enjoying around the world.
"We've witnessed an exemplary tournament," said Spaniard Serafin Lizoain, vice president of IBSA. "It was played at a great level and the results have been excellent. With each passing event, there is less to choose between the sides, and the humanity seen here has been of the highest order."
In total, eight countries from distinct corners of the globe took part in the tournament: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Spain, France, England, Japan and Korea Republic. Just as in 2002, the title ended up in the hands of 'The Bats', who enjoy the support and financial backing of the Argentine Football Association and the right to train at the same facilities as the national football team.
South America reigns supreme
Once again, the pre-tournament favourites made it to the grand finale. Gonzalo Villarino's Argentina, the defending champions, earned their place by topping a Group B that also featured the Koreans, English and Spanish.
Waiting for them there were Brazil, who showed why they are the Para-Olympic champions by seeing off the challenge of France, Japan and Paraguay in Group A. The Canarinha, under the tutelage of Antonio Costa, had two standout players in their campaign: strikers Ricardo and Joao, the latter the tournament top scorer with nine goals.
As you would expect, the facilities at the CENARD were in keeping with an event of this stature. The Centre housed more than 2,500 spectators daily, including diverse personalities from Argentina's sporting and political circles, not to mention an impressive number of reporters from the national and international media.
As for the final itself, the hosts prevailed thanks to a superb goal from Silvio Velo. The Albiceleste No. 5, widely regarded as the best player in the world game, eluded two defenders before chipping over the onrushing Fabio in the Brazilian goal to spark wild celebrations among the home crowd.
"I couldn't ask for any more," said a jubilant Velo afterwards. "We were playing in front of our own fans, we won and I got the winning goal. But as I always say, what matters most is that Argentina won. It was also important for us to retain our title and not disappoint the supporters and attending media who came to watch us."
The remaining podium berth was also filled by a South American side after Paraguay's noteworthy victory over Spain. Francisco Salinas' Guaranis capped a great tournament with a 2-1 win over their European opponents courtesy of two strikes from hero-of-the-hour Ricardo Villamayor.
Afterwards, the organisers were unanimous in highlighting the lessons that this fourth edition of the tournament had for society as a whole. The IBSA's Lizoain summed it up thus: "There is a subliminal message here for everyone. Blind people are also capable of serving up successful and large-scale spectacles." Buenos Aires, and the watching world, can certainly testify to that.
8. Korea Republic