England face 'group of death'

One vision ... England's Blind World Cup team

NOVEMBER 24, 2006

ENGLAND's blind footballers have been drawn in the 'group of death' for this weekend's World Cup.

They face the daunting task of taking on current World champions Argentina and European Cup winners, Spain, when the tournament kicks off in Argentina tonight (24th November).

Korea make up the numbers in the round-robin stage.

Just like the regular World Cup, the blind cup is every four years, with the Blind European Championships two years afterwards.

Blindfolds ... keeping the game fair. Here's action from an England VS Spain game

And just like in the regular World Cup, two danger teams are Argentina and Spain.

Alex Stone, of the Football Association, says: “It was Spain that came up with the concept of blind football and they’re the world number one.

“Hosts Argentina are pretty good as well, so they’re the teams to beat.

“England are about fifth or sixth in the world so we stand a good chance.”

Making up the ten teams in action are Brazil, Paraguay, France, Japan, Korea, South Korea and Senegal.

The England squad have been in Argentina getting used to the 25°C heat to be in top form for their opening game later today.

When in the UK they train together once a month — but have been honing their bodies and skills every weekend for the past two months.

The England team is funded by the FA and works to promote disability in sports

Many players are all-round top performers. Alex Stone says: “One of our key players, Darren Harris, competes in judo and athletics to a high standard.

“And Keryn Seal plays for the blind England cricket squad. A lot of the lads in Argentina now are looking to compete in the Paralympics in Beijing in 2008.”
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Good luck, says David Blunkett

Support ... David Blunkett, former British Home Secretary, is blind

THE Sun columnist and MP, who has been blind since birth, says:

"I WISH the lads the best of luck. I have heard great things about their prospects. I used to play five-a-side myself at university and loved it.

I hope they have a good first aid team. It’s a physical game and I still have the scars to prove it. But I’m sure they are a lot better than I ever was."

The rules

The football is smaller than a normal ball. It is filled with ball bearings so players can hear it.

Games are five-a-side and teams can use five subs.

The crowd must be silent so players can hear where the ball is – but they can celebrate goals.

Players shout out when they want the ball passed to them.

A coach sits behind each goal and shouts so players know where to shoot.

All outfield players must be category B1 blind – completely blind – but still wear blindfolds. This follows a tournament where one player was partially sighted and kept scoring. The players are checked by an ophthalmologist at the start of every tournament.

Goalkeepers are sighted and not allowed out of their areas.

There are walls around the outside of the pitch so the ball is always in play.

Each half is 25 minutes.

There is no offside unlike real football.