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Espinillo dreams of winning gold with the ‘Bats’ at Tokyo 2020

Date: August 11, 2021

Category: Football

Still elated from winning Argentina’s third IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix title, Maximiliano Espinillo is banking on his goal scoring prowess to turn his country’s Rio 2016 bronze medal into gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Espinillo found the net six times at the Grand Prix, earning his country’s third successive title as well as the Top Scorer and Most Valuable Player awards.

The 27-year-old striker was introduced to blind football at 13-years-old in his hometown of Córdoba and made his debut for ‘Los Murcielagos’ (‘The Bats’) in 2013. Maximiliano’s triumphs with the Argentinian national team include two silver medals at the World Championships in Tokyo 2014 and Madrid 2018, two silver medals at the Parapan American Games in Toronto 2015 and Lima 2019, one gold medal and one silver medal at the Copa America in Santiago de Chile 2017 and Sao Paulo 2019 respectively. Espinillo’s most revered medal is arguably his bronze at Rio 2016, in which his lone goal in the penalty shootout against China prized Argentina with their second Paralympic football 5-a-side medal.

“Winning the bronze medal in Rio was a unique experience,” Espinillo said. “Today, five years later I am better prepared mentally and with much more experience than in 2016, which was my first Paralympic Games.”

Argentina secured qualification for Tokyo 2020 after finishing second at the Copa America in 2019. With a handful of podium finishes at Americas, world and Paralympic level, Argentina has a historic goal for Tokyo 2020: “To be able to reach the final and compete for the gold medal,” Maximiliano confirmed.

The world number 1 are in Group B with debutants Thailand, European champions Spain and African champions Morocco, who Maximiliano thinks “are going to be tough opponents, but we are physically well prepared.”

Argentina’s main contenders will be old foes Brazil who have won all four editions of the Paralympic blind football competition, and six-time Asian champions China who won a silver medal on home soil at Beijing 2008.

“All rivals are difficult, as they have evolved. I think that the rivals to beat are going to be China and Brazil, since they are very good teams in terms of football and also physically,” Espinillo, who will heading to Tokyo 2020 with Argentina for his second Paralympic Games, said.

Espinillo will join nine players to represent the Argentina football 5-a-side national team at Tokyo 2020: Darío Lencina, Germán Muleck, Froilán Padilla, Angel Deldo, Federico Accardi, Nahuel Heredia, Brian Pereyra, Maximiliano Espinillo, Marcelo Panizza and Nicolás Véliz. Their first match will be against African champions Morocco on Sunday 29 August 2021 at 7:30pm Japan Standard Time.

The football 5-a-side competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place at the Aomi Urban Sports Park from 29 August to 4 September. The full competition schedule can be found here.

By Keon Richardson | For IBSA

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