"It is a big dream for me to play in a team. Before that, I felt that one-legged people were living on an isolated planet," said a player from an Egyptian amputee football team.
by Marwa Yahya
CAIRO, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Egypt's amputee football team is preparing ahead of their first participation in a regional African tournament that will kick off on Nov. 26 in Tanzania.
"We started forming a one-legged team in 2018 after a photo of Mahmoud Abdel Azeem, who is the captain, went viral as he jumped upside down to celebrate Egypt's qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup," said Ousamah Hassan, technical manager of the team.
Abdel Azeem, the dancing fan and the founder of Egypt's first amputee football team has encouraged many other disabled players to join the team, Hassan told Xinhua during the morning training session.
"Now we have more than 200 disabled candidates in general," Hassan said, adding that the selection process to find the current 17 squad members took a long time.
According to Hassan, the players have spent three months in a training camp that will end on November 24. Their goal is to qualify for the World Amputee Cup in Turkey in 2022.
The African tournament that begins this month includes 15 teams, of which six will qualify for Turkey 2022.
Hassan added that the amputee football team enjoys the support of the country's Youth and Sports Ministry and called for the foundation of a special federation for amputees.
Meanwhile, Abdel Azeem said that the Paralympic committee has promised to establish an Egyptian federation for amputees following the African tournament, encouraging the participation of clubs and sports academies.
Azeem's professional career started in 2018 with a football club based in Izmir, Turkey.
"When I returned to Egypt, I transferred my expertise and everything I learned to my colleagues to help the team to win in the coming regional tournaments," he said.
The captain enthusiastically added that though the tournament in Tanzania will be their first regional participation, they are ready to compete for the title.
"There is only one amputee football team in Egypt, which is affiliated to Pyramids FC, but there are hundreds of young disabled football lovers by whom we can form many teams," Abdel Azem said.
Egypt, one of the few Arab countries with a national team for amputee football, will face a tough test against Nigeria and Ghana in the group stages, according to Seif Salama, the Egyptian team's goalkeeper.
"It is a big dream for me to play in a team. Before that, I felt that one-legged people were living on an isolated planet," said Salama, who used to work as a financial auditor.
The team's ambition is to set up an association and a league, as is the case in the U.K., Turkey, and Cameroon, Salama added, noting that the sporting structure in Egypt is advanced now and can contain various kinds of games and players.
According to the rules of amputee football, outfield players may have two hands but only one leg, whereas goalkeepers may have two feet but only one hand.
Players may not use crutches to advance, control or block the ball, or it will be counted as a foul against their team.
Each team is composed of seven players and changes are allowed during the 50-minute match that is divided into two halves.