As Germany and Greece braced for their crunch Euro 2012 quarter-final on Friday, two teams of blind players showed off their skills in a match meant to show that lack of sight should be no barrier to sport.

Organised as part of the "Respect" campaign run by European football's governing body UEFA, the five-a-side game was held on the same pitch where the professionals of Germany and Greece were due to kick off less than two hours later.

"The issue of disability has been sidelined, almost like it's the secret bit of football that no-one's thought about," Joyce Cook, head of the British-based group Centre for Access to Football in Europe, told AFP.

"It's a breath of fresh air that UEFA's stepped in. It's about players, fans and beyond that, about diversity and access for disabled people, who get a raw deal in so many areas of life."

Wearing black eye-covers which help level the playing field between blind and partially-sighted players, the teams from Polish football hubs Wroclaw and Chorzow battled it out over two seven-minute halves.

As his team's coach shouted instructions from the sidelines - even more part and parcel of football for the blind than it is for the sighted game - Wroclaw's striker Przemyslaw Kowalewski launched into a powerful run and beat the Chorzow keeper to open the score.

Goalkeepers in blind football are sighted and do not wear eye-covers but, perhaps surprisingly, that does not give them as much as an advantage as expected.

Wroclaw scored again in the first half, but Chorzow found the net in the second, as their striker Michal Konopnicki dribbled using a juggling technique so as not to lose the feel of it and then fired home.

His team equalised with a penalty minutes before the final whistle.

Up in the stands were Natalia Kusztal and Konrad Wroblewski, two volunteers who provide detailed live descriptions of matches for blind supporters via an audio link.

Having done so for the blind players' match - rattling off details as fast as an excited radio commentator - they were about to do so for the quarter-final.

"If you do a TV commentary, you get some breaks, but we describe everything non-stop," Wroblewski told AFP.

"We describe what we see in the stands, the crowds, the players' gestures, and where the ball is on the pitch."

Kusztal has already commentated three Euro 2012 games so far, and has previously volunteered at basketball matches, boxing, and football league matches involving Polish champions Slask Wroclaw, her home city.

"The idea is that we'll make this standard practice all all Polish league matches," she said.


Article by Jonathan Fowler

Published 25/06/2012