CAIRO – When Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scored the winning goal against the Republic of the Congo in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, he not only secured Egypt a place for the first time in 28 years, but also inspired a group of amputee players to form The Medicals, a new soccer team for players with disabilities in Cairo.
Salah’s goal sparked wild celebrations in the stadium, including Mahmoud Abdel Azeem, a handicapped fan who was photographed on the field in a joyous handstand atop his crutches – an image that motivated Egyptian coach Yousri Mohamed to form an amputee squad, he told EFE on Saturday.
“Mahmoud Abdel Azeem became very famous when he stood on his crutches celebrating,” coach Mohamed told EFE. “He had been playing soccer with his friends, and when I saw him (in the photo) I got in touch with him to build a team.”
Now, The Medicals are the only all-amputee soccer team in Egypt and the second in the Middle East, according to Mohamed, with the first being in Lebanon.
Abdel Azeem was able to gather amputee players from his community, including friends and neighbors.
Mohamed, a freestyle coach and owner of a sports marketing company, said he had previous experience working on improving another disabled player’s freestyle skills.
But now his role has become much more serious, pioneering a 14-player team whose ultimate target is to participate in the Amputee Football World Cup, an event first held in 1984 in the United States.
“We want to boost the sport among the amputees at the clubs and to compete against each other (…) to qualify for the Amputee Football World Cup,” Mohamed said.
However, there are a number of challenges on the road to the World Cup, as no federation for amputee soccer players currently exists in Egypt.
Small changes were introduced to regular soccer rules, including unlimited substitutions during the game, and there is no offside rule.
Each team contains seven players, including a goalkeeper who can use only one hand and six field players on crutches, all of whom have had a foot or lower leg amputated. The crutches play no role in the game other than allowing players to move and balance while kicking.
The match includes two 25-minute halves with a 10-minute break.
While Egypt’s qualification for the World Cup for the first time in nearly three decades opened the door for this team, Mohamed and his players are hopeful they will not have to wait that long to reach the most important tournament in amputee soccer.