The first big challenge for Brazilian wheelchair basketball towards the Paralympics in Paris (France) in 2024, after being out of the Tokyo Games (Japan), last year, starts this Wednesday (13). Starting at 15:00 (Brasília time), the women’s team debuts in the Copa America of the modality, against Canada. Later, at 19:00, it will be the men’s team’s turn to debut, also against the Canadians.
The event will be held at the Paralympic Training Center in São Paulo. Admission is free and can be purchased upon registration. The equipment is located at kilometer 11.5 of Rodovia dos Imigrantes, in the south of São Paulo. Another option is to follow online, on the Brazilian Wheelchair Basketball Confederation (CBBC) channel on YouTube. The opening ceremony will be at 5pm, but the ball has already gone up in the morning, with Venezuela and Puerto Rico opening the men’s tournament.
The Copa América brings together seven teams in the men’s tournament and eight in the women’s. The four best-placed participants in the men’s and the three in the women’s qualify for the World Championships in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), in November.
In the first phase of the Copa América, the teams are divided into two groups, where they play against each other. All go to the next stage in the men’s, with the duels serving to define the eliminatory clashes. The leader of Group A (the only one that has four teams) goes straight to the semifinals. In women’s, only the top two of each bracket qualify for the semifinals.
Among men, Brazil is in Group B. In addition to Canada, three-time Paralympic champion, Argentina (current South American champion) is in the group. Mexico would be the fourth member, but withdrew from the tournament. In Group A are the United States (nine gold medals in Paralympics, including in Tokyo), Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Colombia. The latter beat the Brazilians in the quarterfinals of the Parapan American Games in Lima (Peru), in 2019, which served as a qualifier for the mega event in Japan. The Colombians were directed by Ana Cardoso from São Paulo, who took over the green and yellow men’s team after the competition on Japanese soil.
“Brazil, today, is still not in the scenario it should be in wheelchair basketball. Other teams in America are passing through. So, we have to go back to this scenario, have a representation and climb our space. We have to be attentive to our key, first, then think about crossings. It’s a high-level championship and Brazil is growing”, said Ana, who has also worked in wheelchair basketball in Italy and Latvia, to Brazil Agency.
In the feminine, the hosts will have Bolivia, Guatemala and Canada as opponents, also for Group B. The Canadians, rivals of the debut, are the current Parapan American champions, responsible for leaving Brazil outside Tokyo and emerge as main competitors in the first phase . In Group A, the United States (four times Paralympic champions), Argentina, Chile and Mexico appear. The Brazilian women, as well as the men’s, have been under new management since the second half of last year. The current coach is Rogério Pinheiro, who debuted with the South American title, achieved in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, against the hosts.
“We tested with almost 30 different athletes to reach the group that is today. In addition to the vacancy for the Worlds, there’s the situation of girls wanting to go up one more step. They always come in second or third [na Copa América]. Maybe it’s our time to take advantage of the fact that we’ll be indoors, having the strength of the crowd pushing the team to, who knows, go up this step”, commented Rogério.
Both Ana and Rogério had the mission of renewing their respective teams on the journey to Paris. The men’s, according to the coach, has half of the cast formed by new faces. Some were even part of the group that qualified for the U-23 World Championship (in Thailand, later this year, with no set date), such as Sérgio Júnior (18 years old) and Cristiano Clemente (23 years old). The other half are veterans, like Anderson Ferreira, 43, who after 16 years defending Brazil, dreams of reaching the first Paralympics of his career.
“As much as some of us already have experience, after the blow we took [por ficar fora de Tóquio], we started from scratch. The process we are doing here is to get to the Worlds and seek a place among the top four. As long as I’m training at high performance, I’ll pursue that dream [de ir a uma Paralimpíada]. And I dream big, I want to come back with a medal”, projected Anderson.
In the women’s team, according to Rogério, six of the 12 called up have already represented the country in Copa Americas and another six will compete in the tournament for the first time. The last edition of the tournament took place five years ago, in Cali (Colombia). On the occasion, the women won the bronze medal and the men’s team finished fourth. Both qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Hamburg (Germany).
“We are growing. Each competition is an experience, a learning experience, so that we don’t make the same mistakes. We are very hopeful, working a lot physically and tactically, where we sometimes leave something to be desired, I think because of nervousness. We are working on this to be more focused and develop a great job”, concluded Perla Assunção, ten years in the national team and elected the best player in the country last year, in the Paralympics Awards.