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Everyone knows about Brazil and football. The most decorated nation in the world - with five FIFA World Cup titles - the South Americans are the undisputed kings of the sport. It's the same in the Paralympic world. The Brazilians rule the 5-a-side competition, which is for visually impaired players. Since the sport entered the Paralympic Games at Athens 2004, only Brazil have been champions. And as the country marks the 1,000 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, its footballers are working towards a fourth consecutive gold medal.
“It will be 1,000 days of intense training for us,” says winger Ricardinho. "Our aim is to arrive at the Rio Games well prepared to win our fourth gold medal, it would be very special. But we have a lot of important competitions before then, like the World Cup in 2014, and we need to maintain our results. Each year we have increased the quantity and quality of our traning, which is becoming even more important as our rivals are studying us a lot, and each time they are more prepared too.”
Ricardinho, who is 24 years old and comes from the south of Brazil, went on to cite Argentina, China and France as Brazil's main rivals. The host nation will need their star winger to be on good form in 2016 and will hope his sharp shooting (as seen in the Rio 2016 video below) takes them to more glory.
“The evolution of Brazilian Paralympic sport in our times is clear, as much in its increased visibility as in terms of the support we are receiving,” said Jefinho. “I'm certain that the Rio 2016 Games will be a watershed moment in the history of Brazilian sport. We are already among the 10 best countries in the world (Brazil finished seventh in the medal table at the London 2012 Paralympic Games) and our aim is to finish in the top five in 2016. The most important thing is that everything that's happening now continues after the Games and that our sports can grow more and more.”
Jefinho, who was recognised as the country's best 5-a-side footballer at the 2013 Brazilian Paralympic Awards on Wednesday night (11 December), was inspirational as Brazil overcame their South American rivals Argentina in the semi-finals and then France in the final to record their third Paralympic gold medal in London last year.
Jefinho believes the Rio 2016 Games will be a watershed moment for Brazilian Paralympic sport (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)
Coach Fabio Vasconcelos, who was goalkeeper in the gold-medal winning teams of 2004, 2008 and 2012 (conceding no goals in the first and last of those tournaments), explained how much hard work was needed to keep Brazil at the top.
“When we started in 2003, it took a lot of hard work and effort from everyone involved, since our funding was really small,” he said. “The gold in 2004 was fundamental, since it gave the sport visibility, increasing the levels of support and professionalism. Today, we all live exclusivley for 5-a-side football. In this cycle, we have a technical commission, that is working to develop new options in the patterns of our play and improve our physical preparation.”
This year the Brazilians won the Copa América for the sixth time, beating Argentina (in Argentina) on penalties. In 2014, Brazil's main challenge will be the World Cup, which they won in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Then it will be Rio 2016...