By hook or by crook, a team of Nigerian athletes will arrive in Mexico this fall for the 2018 Amputee Football World Cup.
The amputee tournament will take place just months after the World Cup in Russia where Nigeria’s team, known as the Niger State Amputees Football Association or the Special Eagles, will face the world’s top competitors.
The squad has been training in the commercial capital of Lagos, using crutches during scrimmages on dirt fields.
The team hopes to follow in the footsteps of Nigeria’s Paralympians who won eight gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics, along with two silver and two bronze medals, to finish 17th in the medal table and top among African countries.
Team captain, Emmanuel Ibeawuchi, exhumed confidence, describing the feats of his fellow athletes, “We are the best all over the world so whatever we do we excel.
“There is no difference between one leg and two legs in terms of football because it is the same rules,” said Ibeawuchi, who lost his leg during a road accident at the age of 22.
Nigeria’s recent return to the international Amputee competition was a result of outstanding payments to the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF) which had accumulated over the course of five years. At the urgings of the Nigeria Football Federation, the debt was repaid on time.
In an interview with the state news agency, Isah Suleiman, the President of Nigeria Amputee Football Federation (NAFF), said, “The passion I have for amputee football and the efforts to bring the sport to light at national and international events has started manifesting, and I feel so happy that it's happening within this short period.
“The journey to this achievement was not easy, but my happiness is that we have regained our membership with the parent body and will now be part of their activities,” he said.
Special Angels Coach Victor Nwewe said he hopes the exposure will raise awareness for those with disabilities across the nation where few facilities are available and consequently parts of the community suffer low self-confidence and struggle with reintegration following an accident.
“We have put it in them that they should see themselves as equally good as an able person,” he said, arguing that his team can outperform their Nigerian counterpart’s short-lived appearance at the World Cup in Russia.