Luis Cassiani takes a step away, concentrates, looks at the barrier, sees it wide, but not unbeatable. His specialty is free throws. And the challenges. So he has faith. He blows the whistle. Luis rests his crutches firmly on the grass. His body, after a little jump, goes from back to front, as if swinging to hit the ball furiously, with the powerful right leg, not the left one because it is absent, and the ball goes like a projectile towards an angle and it is a great goal, and Cassiani looks at the sky, as if moved, screams and thanks God for having him there, scoring goals like before, playing football like before, happy because he is part of the Colombian National Team of amputees that qualified for the World Cup in Turkey, the second he will attend: another dream, like the ones from before.
“We’re jumping on one leg”, jokes Cassiani when the classification is already a fact. And his voice is all joy, all emotion. There is no sign of dejection. There is no hint of inferiority. Cassiani jumps on the right leg, which is a leg strengthened like iron, although it is not iron. One leg as two legs. A leg that shoots balls that end in great goals. And is that a leg is a leg. With it, he scored a free kick against Uruguay and Ecuador in the South American qualifying tournament for the World Cup in Turkey, in which Colombia grew to achieve the results and the long-awaited quota, fought, suffered. Cassiani and his teammates accomplished a feat. And they go for more.
Cassiani is 27 years old, was born in Barranquilla, wears the 10 shirt of Colombia. He is the creative midfielder and one of the two captains of the National Team. He one of the figures among many figures. What if James or Falcao feel? No, he feels like Luis Díaz, he is the one he admires. Also to Pibe Valderrama, to Ronaldinho, his icons are those, the talented ones, like him, who easily throws goal passes on the field. It is an art that he polished before and he has not forgotten it now. “I like Messi’s dribbling and Cristiano Ronaldo’s discipline, you try to learn from them,” he says.
He is a beefy man. He weighs 77 kilograms, he wants to stay at 70. Some call him the Rock, like the famous American wrestler and movie actor. Others simply call him the Beast, since he played a match against Brazil and his rivals compared him to former Brazilian player Julio Baptista, who was called that because of his power and his shot. Cassiani is proud of the nicknames of him. But he insists that his is not only strength and power, but also his command of the ball, his precision. Oh, and give him a free kick and you’ll see…
the rude awakening
Cassiani was riding a barbecue on a motorcycle that day in 2011 when fatality crossed his path. A hole, a simple hole, that was enough, a fall, the worst fall, an accident and the turning of life when it was just beginning, 16 years old. The dreams were stalled for a few hours, while he was unconscious. When Cassiani woke up in the hospital bed, he immediately noticed that something was missing: his left leg was missing, the same one with which he also scored free kick goals at the Llantería Muñoz club, in Barranquilla, where he played and where he projected to reach being a professional and going to play in a big team, those were his dreams. Then he realized, a blink to check that he wasn’t asleep, that it wasn’t a nightmare, and yes, he was already an amputee. And yet Cassiani, who says he’s ambidextrous, didn’t back down.
Those who know him were surprised to see his mental toughness. He got up like someone who gets up on both legs, full of courage, looking for a revenge that in this case was life itself. “The reality was different, but I was always charismatic, clinging to the spiritual life, because I believe in God. He was my psychologist. I have been a resilient person, I have been reborn from adversity, ”he assures today, and his accent is so coastal.
And there he was again, touring the courts, getting into the dives, and what did it matter if people looked at him differently. “They told me crazy, how was I going to play, that I was the only one on crutches… But I told them that those of us who innovate always have to be prepared to be treated like crazy, because we differ from the others… My family was shocked to see how I coped with things. Believing in God filled me with strength…”, says Cassiani, who continued with all of his projects: today he is a technician in commercial management and a technologist in business management graduated from Sena. He leads a foundation called Champions without Limits, which works with mine victims and disabled athletes.
In addition, he took on the task of investigating how amputee football is structured in other countries, he began to gather players who for different reasons had lost a limb and began to give life to this National Team. His dreams had undergone a variation, but they were almost the same: make it to the National Team, wear the ’10’ shirt, score goals from free kicks and qualify for another World Cup.
The road to the World Cup
They are Luis Cassiani, Candelario Donado, José Suárez, Jesús Moreno, Jairo Meza, goalkeeper Alfonso Visbal – who saves without an arm – Pedro Pilonieta, Jerry Herrera, Jorge Tovar, Humberto Rochel, Julián García, Árnol Sepúveda and DT Lesis Ibáñez , who prepared to qualify for the World Cup in Turkey, in the South American held in Salgar, near Barranquilla. A South American of amputee soccer players.
Seven against seven. Two halves of 25 minutes. Court of 80 by 40 meters. Crutches, which are actually called canes and go up to the forearm, for outfield players who have lost a lower limb. Those sticks are like an extension of the arms because the ball cannot be touched with them. Strength, skill, finishing and dexterity – as Cassiani says – are of the leg, while the goalkeeper, who is missing an upper limb, also tries to be the hero.
The beginning of Colombia was adverse in the championship: draw against Chile 2-2, lost against Brazil, 1-0, lost against Argentina, 2-1, the elimination loomed dangerously. But the team got up off the ground. Cassiani spoke a lot to the players, he spoke to them as a leader, about courage, about momentum, about dreams and goals. The key game was against Uruguay, because a defeat left them out, and that day they achieved an agonizing 1-1 draw, there were 5 minutes left when Cassiani’s free kick goal came, that when he scored, he raised his hands to the sky and shouted with all his might, a cry that came from his gut, a cry echoed by his own soul: “Thank you, God!” For Cassiani, that is the best goal of his career so far, because of the meaning. “He gave us back the illusion of qualifying,” he says now, proudly.
Colombia was really on its feet. Then he beat Ecuador 3-0 and that day Cassiani did another of his own, another great goal from a free kick, it was when he threw his crutches away, jumped six times and knelt on his right knee, as if between happy and nostalgic, while receiving hugs by the heaps Already in the final match, the victory was resounding, 6-0 against Peru, and Cassiani did not score, but his teammates took center stage: Candelario scored three times, the other goals were from Suárez, Moreno and Meza, the latter, so that there is no doubt that there is plenty of talent here, it was an Olympic goal. Colombia reached 8 points and achieved the fourth place in the World Cup, which will be played in October. So the players keep jumping with happiness. “Each one put their grain of sand, their efforts to make this a reality,” says Cassiani.
Cassiani trains daily. 200 sit-ups. 200 push-ups. He trains his leg. He trains his free throws. He trains his mind, which also touches. Before the accident he felt that he had the projection to play in Europe, after the accident he still believes that he can go abroad, again, further, because he was already in the Costa Rican league, from where he returned during the pandemic. He thinks that the World Cup in Turkey could be his springboard, he wants to stay and play in that league for a few seasons. Has experience. He has already been with the Amputee National Team in the 2018 World Cup in Mexico, in the 2015 Copa América and in a Confederations Cup. Cassiani has no barriers beyond those that are put in front of him on free throws.
I began to value more, focusing as a priority what one traces in life. I have a phrase that is that when one has disposition and will he gets what he wants
Luis Cassiani wants to be an example. He wants to convey his message, that nothing is impossible, that what one sets out to do can be achieved, that one can overcome adversity. Let him say it, in his words: “Never worry, I think that sometimes trials are part of the purpose, and in the end God always rewards us… I began to value more, focusing as a priority what one traces in life . I have a phrase that is that when one has disposition and will he gets what he wants”.
The next goal for Cassiani and this National Team is for the professional league to be formed, like in Uruguay, like in Brazil, like in Argentina. Cassiani believes that with the qualification for the World Cup and the support they have already received from the Government of the Atlantic, more actors will join to promote this modality. “We are making ourselves known and showing that we have many trained athletes. We are inviting everyone who wants to join to see if we can structure the league,” he says.
Cassiani and the others were going to be invited to the match of the Colombian National Team this Thursday against Bolivia, in the qualifying round for the Qatar World Cup.
-And if you could talk to James, Diaz and the others, what would you tell them?
–That they do not lose faith, that sometimes the tests are part of the purpose, that they trust in their abilities and in God, because he makes it possible.
Cassiani is proof of that. He has risen on his right leg to make the seemingly impossible possible. To break down barriers, like someone who makes a tremendous free kick goal of his life.
Editor of THE TIME
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