Special Olympics Jamaica basks in Unified Cup triumph
Special Olympics Jamaica footballers and staff celebrate winning the Unified Cup after beating Paraguay 2-0 in the division one final at Keyworth Stadium in Michigan on Saturday, August 6, 2022. (Photo: Collin Reid courtesy of Digicel Foundation and Courts)

SPECIAL Olympics Jamaica's (SOJ's) football Assistant Coach Fadil Lee said it was a "near-perfect" collective effort from his players which saw them hoisting the Unified Cup at Keyworth Stadium in Michigan, United States.

The Jamaicans, who did not concede a goal all tournament, beat South American team Paraguay 2-0 in Saturday's division one final to better their division two silver-medal finish four years ago in Illinois.

Ellis Guscott and Ontwain Mitchell got the goals for the SOJ team, led by Head Coach Shane Richards.

Earlier in the tournament, Jamaica started with a confidence-boosting 4-0 victory over Paraguay. Then they defeated Romania 3-0, Saudi Arabia 3-0, and Singapore 10-0 to cap off a flawless Group B campaign before clipping Morocco 1-0 in the semi-final.

"It was a near-perfect tournament, culminating in an entertaining victory on Independence Day," Lee said in reference to Jamaica's 60th Independence anniversary on August 6.

"We spoke about getting the business done prior to arriving here, and the boys delivered. We got more confident as the games went by in the group phase and we did well.

"The semi-final [against Morocco] gave us the wake-up call we needed to approach the final, and what a game it [the final] was! It was end-to-end and nail-biting and with loud cheers — and it was just an all-round wonderful day for everyone. And, of course, we're extra happy that Team Jamaica brought it home," he told the Jamaica Observer.

Though Jamaica had beaten Paraguay with relative comfort in the group stage, Lee said he was not surprised by the sterner test in the championship match, especially because the South Americans had edged continental rivals Brazil 1-0 in their semi-final contest.

But he noted that the Jamaican players got all the boost they needed from members of the Jamaican Diaspora and from Jamaica's Sport Minister Olivia Grange who, via video message, told them she was confident the team would do its best "and bring home the Cup".

"We woke up to a message from Minister Grange and that, along with the Jamaican Association of Michigan — some Jamaicans living here who treated us well and made us comfortable — really fired us up for the final," Lee said.

The unified sports programme, a focus of the Special Olympics movement, combines people with intellectual disabilities and those without disabilities in training and competition.

Through sport activities and competition, the Special Olympics International movement aims to break down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down's syndrome, from mainstream society.

The disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can also include cases of cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and some cases of developmental delay.

Sanjay Myers

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