LAGOS (Reuters) – Sixteen years after Emmanuel Ibeawuchi lost a leg in a road accident, his dream of playing soccer in a World Cup is about to become a reality.
He will captain Nigeria’s team when it makes its debut at the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico in October.
The team hopes to follow in the footsteps of Nigeria’s disabled athletes who 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.
“We are the best all over the world so whatever we do we excel,” said Ibeawuchi, a 38-year-old bus conductor, citing the success of Nigerian disabled athletes across a range of sports.
“There is no difference between one leg and two legs in terms of football because it is the same rules,” added the father-of-three who has played the game since his lower right leg was amputated a few inches below his knee.
The amputee tournament will take place just months after the World Cup in Russia where Nigeria’s team, known as the Super Eagles, failed to qualify from the group stage. The squad has been training in the commercial capital of Lagos, using crutches during games set on dusty brown soil.
Like many cities across Africa, there are few facilities in public spaces for disabled people in Lagos, a city of around 23 million people.
Team coach Victor Nwewe said this makes disabled athletes less visible, a factor that affects the confidence of some players.
“We have put it in them that they should see themselves as equally good as an able person,” he said, arguing that his team, known as the Special Eagles, can outperform their counterpart’s short-lived appearance at the World Cup in Russia.
“Since then all of them have the confidence now that they can even do better than the able bodied,” he said.
Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg