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Friday, Jul 11, 2014

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Ghana amputee footballers strive for international glory

AFP | Friday, Jul 11, 2014

Ghana's amputee footballers training as they hope to compete at the 2014 Amputee Football World Cup.

ACCRA - On a field scattered with rubbish, ripe with the smell of urine and criss-crossed by commuters and the occasional truck, a group of Ghanaian footballers practise drills, the early morning sun glinting off their metal crutches.

While footballers around the globe have their eyes on Brazil, Ghana's national amputee football team is gearing up to compete in a world cup of its own in Mexico later this year.

But standing between the Black Challenge side and victory in the 2014 Amputee Football World Cup are not just old foes such as Argentina and Liberia.

The team's ability to attract support for their unique brand of football is also in the balance, and unless they can raise the money needed to fund the trip, they may not go at all.

That hasn't stopped them preparing.

"We don't have much time, so we have to train hard," said one of the team's coaches, Benjamin Armah, as he watched his veteran players trickle in for an early practice session on a warm May morning in the capital, Accra.

The Black Challenge started officially in 2007 - the same year the team won the first Cup of African Nations for Amputee Football, said Theodore Viwotor, administrative secretary for the Ghana Amputee Football Association.

The team came in sixth in the 2012 World Cup held in Russia, after Argentina eliminated the Ghanaians in the preliminary round.

In last year's cup of nations in Nairobi, the team was placed third after being knocked out by Liberia in the semi-finals.

Black Challenge coaches will hold trials in Ghana's two largest cities in August, choosing a squad from new recruits and returning team members for the tournament in November.

Poles apart

The rules in amputee football are much the same as in regular football, albeit adapted to take into account what the World Amputee Football Federation calls its "abbreviated" players.

International matches are played with seven on each side for two 25 minute periods, there is no offside and kick-ins replace throw-ins.

On the pitch, the movements stand out.

Outfield players - all of them missing either an entire single lower limb or part of one - dash across the field on metal crutches, using them for support as they jostle for the ball and kick goals home.

People with one missing or malformed arm are enlisted as goalkeepers.

While the ranks of Angola and Sierra Leone's amputee football teams are made up of those who lost limbs in brutal conflict, most of Ghana's players were victims of accidents or illness.

"I knew I could still play because I was already a footballer," said Mubarak Ademu, a striker who lost his leg in a car accident when he was aged six.

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