Raucous fans a liability for hosts in blind 5-a-side football

Morocco's Othmane Driouch (second, right) tries to stop Brazil's Jefinho (centre) during their men's football 5-a-side match against Brazil during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, on Sept 9, 2016.
Morocco's Othmane Driouch (second, right) tries to stop Brazil's Jefinho (centre) during their men's football 5-a-side match against Brazil during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, on Sept 9, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO • The Brazilian crowd was one of the quietest ever for their national football team, but it was still not quiet enough when the ball came into the box in the 29th minute.

With Brazil trailing Morocco 1-0 on Friday, the noise rose from a nervous crowd used to cheering on their own, and striker Nonato, unable to hear the jingling bell inside the ball, missed.

"Silence please," the referee called to the stands once more. Brazil's coach Fabio Vasconcelos shook his head in despair.

Blind five-a-side football, where players follow the ball by the rattling it makes as it rolls, may be the only sport at the Paralympics where the raucous home crowd is a liability rather than a boon.

From judo to tennis and golf, Brazil's fans ripped up traditional crowd etiquette and brought a loud football culture to Olympic sport. Opposition athletes were often booed and chants from an army of yellow shirts deafened venues.

But this arena is different, as green signs asking for silence attest. The players are totally or almost totally blind and wear eye masks to make sure no one has an advantage.

As the crowd wrestled with how to show their support, the"shhhhs" of fans demanding quiet were often louder than the cheers they were hoping to stop.

"It's so difficult. We're trying but we really want to shout," said Sonia Lima, 54, at half-time when the noise level rose with collective relief that silence was, for a few minutes at least, not necessary.

Watching with four friends all dressed in Brazil shirts and waving flags, Lima said the silence felt unnatural.

"When they get near the goal I just want to scream, 'Take a shot!' "

Fortunately for the excitable crowd, Brazil overcame the noise to find their rhythm in the second half and clawed their way to a 3-1 win with goals from Ricardinho, Jefinho and Nonato.

After the match, a relieved Jefinho tried not to discourage the crowd as he asked them to quiet down.

"That energy (of the crowd) is very important for us on the pitch. Silence is needed, but the support that comes from them is really important for us too," the player who is widely considered the greatest player to grace blind five-a-side football said.

The three-time Paralympic champions hope the crowd learns the right way to show their support before they play Turkey today.

"Over time the crowd will get used to our game and will start being quieter," Jefinho said.

At the end of Friday, China extended their lead at the top of the medal standings with 20 golds - five in the pool, four in athletics, two in cycling and one each in shooting and powerlifting.

Britain were second in the standings with 12 golds and Ukraine were third with seven.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Raucous fans a liability for hosts in blind 5-a-side football'. Print Edition | Subscribe