Football provides solace for those left without limbs by Syria war

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Syrian amputees who were handicapped in the war warm up prior to competing in a football match organized by a center for physical therapy in Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control. For the past month, a physiotherapy center in Syria's northwest province has been training 19 war-wounded men and boys to establish a football team. (AFP)
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Syrian amputees who were handicapped in the war take part in a football training session organised by a centre for physical therapy at a pitch on the outskirts of Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control, on January 12, 2018. For the past month, a physiotherapy center in Syria's northwest Idlib province has been training 19 war-wounded men and boys to establish a football team. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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Syrian amputees who were handicapped in the war warm up prior to competing in a football match organised by a centre for physical therapy in Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control, on January 15, 2018. For the past month, a physiotherapy center in Syria's northwest Idlib province has been training 19 war-wounded men and boys to establish a football team. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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Syrian amputees who were handicapped in the war take part in a football match organised by a centre for physical therapy in Idlib, the last province in the country outside the government's control, on January 15, 2018. For the past month, a physiotherapy center in Syria's northwest Idlib province has been training 19 war-wounded men and boys to establish a football team. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
Updated 15 February 2018
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Football provides solace for those left without limbs by Syria war

IDLIB, Syria: At the referee’s whistle, the young forward leans on his crutches and punts the football with his only leg, kicking off a match between war amputees in Syria’s battered northwest.
What follows is a different take on the beautiful game: Men of all ages, some using crutches, deftly pass the ball back and forth as they sail across the field.
The ball reaches the attacker, who steadies himself on his crutches and uses his sole leg to send it flying toward the goal.
The keeper, who is missing his right arm, dives to his knees to make a save, but the ball bounces past him into the net amid cheers and whistles.
For the past month, a physiotherapy center in Syria’s northwest Idlib province has been training 19 war-wounded men and boys to establish a football team.
Idlib is the last province in Syria still outside government control and has faced a weeks-long regime assault backed by Russia.
Some players are civilians, others are fighters — but they have been brought together by their impairments and their shared love for football.

“Sometimes, the ball crosses right in front of me and I want to shoot it with my left leg, then I feel sorry for myself because my leg’s amputated,” said Salah Abu Ali, sitting on the sun-soaked edge of the football pitch.
“Some things are still hard, like running or being fast.”
The 23-year-old player was wounded nearly a year ago in a bombardment on his native Raqqa, a northern Syrian city recaptured.
He woke up in the hospital to find his leg had been amputated and decided to seek safety to the west in rebel-held territory.
“When I first arrived in Idlib, I didn’t know anyone. I just thought of the past. I didn’t want to work, go out. I didn’t like to see people or let them see me,” said Abu Ali.
But when he found the football team, he said, it was like getting “a new life.”
“I lost a limb but life goes on -— I want to live my life as positively as possible. I want to play football, swim, come and go.”
Founded just over a year ago, the rehabilitation center that runs the football sessions is housed in Idlib’s Specialist Hospital.
It has treated some 900 war-wounded, including men and women of all ages with injuries ranging from simple fractures to amputations, said physiotherapist Mohammad Marea.
“We had a psychological objective in training these guys but also wanted to target their morale,” Marea told AFP.
“Thank God, they responded quickly and happily, accepting the idea wholeheartedly,” said Marea.

Next the center plans on setting up bodybuilding and swimming classes. Footballers train two or three times a week, for sessions of up to two hours.
Those that have prosthetic legs prop them up against the metal fence — they move faster without them — and wrap amputated limbs in protective gauze.
At a recent friendly match, opposing players wearing mint-green and red jerseys grappled over the ball on a pitch set up by charity association Shafak.
“Ole, ole, ole!” team members cheered, their arms around each other’s shoulders and hopping on one leg.
Added to the usual cacophony of cheers and referee whistles was the clinking of crutches as players darted across the field.
At home after his match, Abdulqader Al-Youssef drapes his medal around his toddler son’s head.
“Look at what Daddy won today!” said the beaming 24-year-old, a lifetime football lover who played on his local team.

Youssef hails from Homs, a central Syrian city known as “the capital of the revolution” that erupted across the country in 2011.
He joined the uprising as a rebel fighter and even played football on breaks from the front, but he lost his right leg in clashes against government troops in 2015.
“Being wounded was a huge shock to me. There were so many things I could do before my injury that I couldn’t do afterwards,” said Youssef, his dark curly hair pulled back by a black headband.
Carrying groceries seemed an impossible task, until he joined the physiotherapy football team.
“Since beginning training, I can do things I couldn’t do before. I used to say it was too hard, but now I can lift a gas canister and other things,” he said proudly.
“Life doesn’t stop at an injury. Don’t lose hope or get sad at losing a limb,” he added.
“As our trainers told us today, there’s no handicap of the body — just of the mind.”
Still, war is never far away. Last month, one trainee player was killed in a bomb blast in Idlib city.


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.