Nonato clinches Brazil’s fifth Paralympic title
Date: September 4, 2021
The Brazilian blind football team successfully won their fifth consecutive Paralympic title on Saturday (4 September) as Morocco also made history in the bronze medal match.
Replaying the final of Athens 2004, and the gold medal matches at Lima 2019 Parapan American Games, 2019 American Championships and 2018 World Championships, Brazil and Argentina met anew at Tokyo 2020.
The two blind football juggernauts have faced each other in sixteen finals across one Paralympic Games, three Parapan American Games, five World Championships and six American Championships, with Brazil clocking thirteen victories and Argentina only winning thrice.
A nerve-racking first-half featured countless physical battles but few openings to score. Argentina started off with a few chances, penning Brazil inside the middle and defensive third of the field. Brazil began to find their rhythm and in the fifteenth minute had the clearest chance of the half. Tiago Da Silva raced with the ball from the defensive third to the penalty area, and struck a shot which hit the left post. The fast paced first half ended 0-0.
The tension carried on into the second-half with a penalty shootout looking more likely to determine the gold medal winner. But Nonato broke that possibility in the 32 minute by a solo dribble through Argentina’s outfield players and a left foot toe-poke past Dario Lencina.
As the clock ticked on and the rain got heavier, so did the Argentinian hearts. Brazil sat back and saw out the remainder of the game professionally to collect their fifth Paralympic gold medal without conceding a single goal.
“We fought very hard and we were dedicated to this match,” Nonato said. “We have a very strong team and we believed to the end. We didn’t give up.”
“It’s a privilege. We played five Paralympics and won five medals” Brazilian goalkeeper Luan continued. “We are warriors.”
Asked whether the defending champions felt concerned after a goalless first half, Luan said: “I wasn’t nervous but we have an emotional strength, we fought for this game and the most important thing is that we were relaxed and that helped.”
“This one tastes different because of the circumstances,” Nonato said. “We are in the pandemic, it affected our training. And also it was very hot in the beginning [in Tokyo] and the last two days we have had a lot of rain, so it felt different.”
The bronze medal match was a battle between two regional champions – African’s all-time reigning champions Morocco and Asian gold medallists China. Morocco committed to their system of three defenders sitting deep and feeding the ball into their lone striker Zouhair Snisla.
Morocco’s system paid dividends as it took less than three minutes for Snisla to weave through China’s defence and slot a left foot shoot past Limin Wu, giving Morocco the lead. Five minutes later, Snisla danced through China’s defence again and fired a shot in with his left foot to double Morocco’s lead. China attempted to penetrate Morocco’s goal but the African side were robust in defence, denying China any real opening to go into half-time 2-0 up.
Two minutes in the second-half, Snisla bagged his hat-trick to put the game out of reach for China. The 22-year-old scored his fourth goal in the 38th minute to actualise Morocco’s dream of a blind football podium finish at the Paralympic Games.
Morocco made up for the absence of fans in the 4,500 Aomi Urban Sports Park by going through the full repertoire of celebratory songs with their Ministry Observers after the final hooter. They did, however, also make time to clap the dispirited China team off the pitch in a commendable sporting gesture.
Speaking post-game, Morocco’s lone goal scorer Snisla said:
“I was scared because China is among the best team in the world so to win this match wasn’t easy. I tried my best to dribble and score four goals which wasn’t that easy to realise. Even myself I can’t believe it. I played with a few injures but I challenged myself physically to reach the goal of the medal.
He also reflected on the importance of the podium finish for Morocco and the African continent at large:
“This bronze for Morocco means a lot. We are the only [Paralympic] sporting team to ever win a medal. This accomplishment can give a lot of motivation to national blind football teams in Africa to reach this stage. There is only one spot in this competition for Africa, but I hope there will be two places at the next Paralympic Games.”
By Keon Richardson | For IBSA