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Arezki and France seek to reclaim status at Tokyo 2020

Date: July 23, 2021

Category: Football

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on one month’s time will mark the return of France, pitted against the world’s best in the football 5-a-side competition for the first time in nine years.

France last competed at London 2012 where they gained their first Paralympic silver medal following a narrow 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the final.

Hakim Arezki, a piano tuner and musician with two albums, has served ‘Les Blues’ (‘The Blues’) as a defender since 2009 with more than 36 appearances. He lost his vision in 2001 at the age of 18 and was introduced to blind football in 2004 whilst at the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. Arezki claimed top honours during his debut at the European Championships in Nantes 2009 and two subsequent silver medals in Loano 2013 and Rome 2019. The versatile defender was also a key member of the French national team winning silver at London 2012 and candidly remembers the experience:

“My best moment in the sport will probably remain the London 2012 Paralympic Games. This competition was magical from the beginning to the end, especially the semi-final and the incredible final against Brazil.”

Hakim Arezki guards the ball with his right foot under pressure from a German opponent at the 2019 IBSA Blind Football European Championships in Rome, Italy

The Paralympic silver medal was indeed a significant feat for Arezki  and France. However, they were unable to defend their podium finish as they failed to qualify for Rio 2016. France also missed out on their regular top three result at the European Championships in Berlin 2017; and their second from last place finish at the World Championships in Madrid 2018 only exacerbated the decline of the national team. A new project was created to rebuild the French national team back to a world class nation; and just a year later, France achieved silver at the European Championships in 2019 to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 blind football competition.

“We gave everything to get this qualification. The investment, the talent and the will of the players, the involvement and the professionalism of the staff, all of that made us qualified for Tokyo 2020,” Arezki  said.

Alongside numerous training camps and friendly matches against Spain, France competed at the 2021 IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix and were able to face four of their opponents for the Paralympic Games. Despite finishing last, the Grand Prix according to Arezki  for France was focused on preparation for their return to the world stage rather than final standings.

“This tournament was more a preparation than a challenge. That allowed us to realize that the fine details are very important at this level of play. We also saw that we are close to the other teams; not too much behind, nor in front, but rather close. These Games are really going to come down to details.”

France is drawn in Group A with hosts and debutants Japan, four-time Paralympic champions Brazil and Asian champions China, which was dubbed the “pool of death”, but Arezki  has no trepidation about battling against “strong and formidable” opponents.

“Being in the same group as Brazil, China and Japan does not change our objective and our preparation, nor our motivation. Our objective for these Paralympic Games in Tokyo is to regain our place in the world. Give everything, regret nothing and do everything to go as far as possible.”

France will face Japan in the first game of Tokyo 2020 on 29 August at 9am Japan Standard Time. The full competition schedule can be found here.

The football 5-a-side competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place at the Aomi Urban Sports Park from 29 August – 4 September.

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