- Cesar Morais dazzled at the European Down syndrome finals
- He was hailed by the FC Porto coach and the Portuguese President
- His father lauds the impact football has on Cesar’s life
“When Cesar found out he was going to Italy to represent Portugal, he felt like he was Cristiano Ronaldo. At the airport, I remember looking at him, surrounded by his team-mates, and thinking I’d never seen him so happy.”
That’s what Antonio Morais told FIFA.com about his son going to play in the maiden FIFDS European Futsal Championship, organised by SUDS (the Sports Union For Athletes With Down Syndrome).
Antonio, in his wildest fantasies, couldn’t have envisioned it, but Cesar was even more euphoric awaiting his flight home. For the then 30-year-old’s souvenirs from a few days in Terni, Umbria – the birthplace of Saint Valentine – were a winner’s medal and a golden boot for being the tournament’s leading marksman, which he grasped lovingly. “Cesar didn’t dare put them in his suitcase in case it got lost!” remembered Antonio.
Cesar told FIFA.com: “Travelling to Italy to represent Portugal was the best experience of my life. I enjoyed getting to meet and spend time with athletes from other countries, as well as the camaraderie and unity that existed in our national team.
“I’ve loved football since I was six years old. My heroes are Cristiano Ronaldo and (futsal superstar) Ricardinho. According to the critics, I played really well. My playing style is similar to Ricardinho’s. I always play for the team, I defend and attack, and whenever I can I score goals. I was the tournament’s top scorer, but I recognise that without the incredible performances of my team-mates that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Those team-mates were Tiago Castro, Luis Goncalves, Paulo Lino, Carlos Lobo, Daniel Maia, Helder Ornelas, Nelson Silva, Ricardo Pires, Norberto Santos and Rui Sousa, athletes between the ages of 23 and 44 who made the Portugal squad sent by ANDDI (National Association of Sports for Intellectual Disability). Portugal were the underdogs going into the final, but a hat-trick from Guimaraes forward Silva and a brilliant strike from Morais secured a stunning 4-0 victory over hosts and reigning world champions Italy.
No less than Portuguese President, His Excellency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was among those in awe: “These Portuguese athletes have once again proved that we are among the best of the best. Huge congratulations to all the athletes, and a special word of congratulations to Cesar Morais, who was considered the tournament’s best player.”
Around 200 fans greeted the Portugal players at the airport upon their return home. One held a banner pleading, ‘Cesar, give me your shirt!’
More adulation was forthcoming for Cesar. When he and Daniel Maia returned to FC Porto, for whom they represent, they were given a rapturous reception by club president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, coach Sergio Conceicao, and the likes of Iker Casillas, Eder Militao, Alex Telles, Danilo, Hector Herrera and Yacine Brahimi.
“FC Porto have been wonderful for Cesar and so many others with Down syndrome,” explained Antonio. “They play a couple of times per week. The training and matches give them a routine and something to look forward to.
“They make a lot of friends and have fun. And it’s extremely important for them physically and intellectually. They feel more complete, more responsible and useful to society.
“Words can’t explain the difference clubs like FC Porto, and the amazing work of ANDDI and others organisations, make to the lives of people with Down syndrome.”
Cesar concluded: “I’m still so happy to think about the European Championship, and all I think about now is the [FIFDS] World Championship in Brazil.
The party will unfold in Ribeirao Preto between 28 May and 6 June.
Today, on World Down Syndrome Day, it’s time to commemorate all the admirable work organisations such as SUDS and ANDDI, and the clubs who embrace those with Down syndrome, do.