CAMPOS, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian Gabriel Muniz, 11, is one of the best players at his school despite being born without feet and he dreams of being a footballer when he grows up, even though he knows it can only be at disabled level.
After an appearance in Brazil’s most popular sports show on the TV Globo network, Gabriel was invited to take part in a Barcelona training camp in Saquarema, a town in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
His special skills impressed the Spanish club’s coaches and he has been invited to meet his idol Lionel Messi next month.
“When he arrived there no one believed in him but he proved to everyone he can go head to head with any boy. So much so that he was invited to go to Spain to showcase his talent,” said his gym teacher Jose Lopes.
Gabriel was not yet one when he started walking on his stumps and he went on from there.
He plays soccer like anyone else but without feet, kicking the ball with his stumps.
Gabriel’s mother Sandra told Reuters her son has always lived a normal life despite his physical limitations.
Every day the boy wakes up at 0630 and rides his bicycle to school along with his older brother.
Last year he received a donated foot-ankle prosthesis but his mother says she cannot afford any special treatments for him.
“Gabriel started walking before he was one. We would go after him, expecting him to keep falling, but he never fell,” she said.
Lopes said the boy may help to create opportunities for children like him.
“The disability only exists inside our heads and he is proving it to everyone, he is challenging the social norms,” Lopes explained.
“To this day there isn’t a Paralympics 11-a-side football team but Gabriel is showing this will have to change because he wants to play 11-a-side football.”
His best friend, 13-year-old Lucas Santos, said Gabriel is a great player.
“He is skilful, he goes after the ball and he is fearless. He also makes good passes,” he said.
The trip to Spain is already a dream come true for Gabriel whose imaginary team begins with him and includes a good part of Barcelona’s squad.
“Me, Messi, Daniel Alves, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Victor Valdez, Adriano, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and (Alexis) Sanchez,” he said.
Writing by Alice Pereira, editing by Rex Gowar and Tony Jimenez