Spain’s Gaitán: ‘We aspire to fight for medals’
Date: June 24, 2021
By Keon Richardson | For IBSA
There are very few blind football players in the world with a long and distinguished career like Antonio Martín Gaitán.
Since debuting for Spain in 1999, the 39-year-old striker has won six European Championship gold medals and two silver medals, two World Championship bronze medals, two World Grand Prix bronze medals and two Paralympic bronze medals.
Nicknamed El Niño – the boy – Gaitán is looking to add a third Paralympic medal to his haul at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“We aspire to fight for the medals which I think is Spain’s obligation,” he said. “On a personal level, I want to help the team as much I can, bring experience, goals and above all a lot of hard work to do my best every time the coach asks me to.”
However, the road to Tokyo 2020 qualification was not a straightforward process for Spain. La Roja – the red one – failed to qualify at the 2018 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Blind Football World Championships on home soil in Madrid after finishing fifth. The qualification spot went to the eventual winners of the competition – Brazil.
Spain was given a second qualification chance at the 2019 IBSA Blind Football European Championships, which they successfully took after reaching the final and defeating France 3-1 to claim their eighth European title and Antonio’s third European top goal scorer award.
“We prepared very well and deservedly achieved our objective. After that came the coronavirus pandemic. We were calm because we had achieved our place, but we were so afraid of the postponement of the Games. Then we had difficulty training in our own homes. And then little by little I was able to get back to training. In June 2020, I was able to get into the gym and in September I was able to play with the ball.”
Despite the significant challenges posed by the pandemic, Spain have played a handful of friendly and international matches in preparation for Tokyo 2020. The European champions hosted France in April for a series of friendlies, winning three out of four matches. Spain also competed against four of the eight qualified teams for Tokyo 2020 at the 2021 IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix earlier this month and collected bronze following a 1-0 victory over Thailand in the third place play off.
“We have had positive and negative feelings, but the good thing is that we have faced two of the teams we have been drawn in the same group at the [Paralympic] Games and it has helped us to know how our opponents are and what things we need to improve,” Gaitán said when reflecting on Spain’s performance at the World Grand Prix.
For Tokyo 2020 Spain is drawn in group B with African champions Morocco, defending Paralympic bronze medallists Argentina and debutants Thailand. Reflecting on the draw and Spain’s rivals for a medal, Gaitán said:
“In a Paralympic Games there are the best eight teams in the world, so you can beat anyone, and you can lose to anyone. But without a doubt I think China, Argentina and Brazil are the main rivals.”
While Gaitain has his focus set on Tokyo 2020, the University of Malaga business graduate is also planning to return to university to support his venture into coaching. He explained:
“I am working for ONCE [Spain’s leading charity for people with visual impairments] as a lottery seller and I do this alongside sport. I want to continue playing football and in the highest competition, but after the Games I am going to enrol in a Master’s degree in sports coaching.”
The football 5-a-side competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place at the Aomi Urban Sports Park from 29th August to 4th September.