Gesticulating wildly and never losing sight of each other or the ball, the footballers dashed across the field attempting to land the last goal and equalise the score.

The final score was 5-4 and as the two teams shook hands and cheered each other there was little to distinguish the victors from the losing team - except that all the opposition players were deaf.

The so-called Deaf Kavallieri team was closely edged out by a selection from third division Swieqi United and officials.

The deaf team was established around two years ago, but last Thursday's game was only the third match they had played this year and the first time they had played against an established football club, as they struggle to find opponents willing to give them a game.

It all started when the Sports Council contacted the Deaf Association to see if they would be interested in forming a team, as part of its efforts to make sports more inclusive. They are sponsored by Nivea, which is responsible for their navy blue kits, and they have 12 players aged 18 to 50. They train each Thursday in Kirkop under the guidance of coach Joseph Muscat, who is not deaf and communicates to the players through gestures and by speaking clearly in Maltese so they can read his lips.

"I was apprehensive about taking on the role because I did not think I would be able to communicate with the players. But I love a challenge and I have learnt a lot from coaching these players," Mr Muscat said.

The team is the only one specifically for deaf people in Malta, although the Sports Council is hoping to assemble a team for deaf women in the near future.

Most of the players are totally deaf and they do not play with hearing aids as the devices could break or cause injuries. Consequently, the players communicate through sign language, gestures and lip reading.

Now that Swieqi United have played his team, Mr Muscat hopes other sides will offer to give them a game during their weekly slot at 7.30 p.m. at the Kirkop pitch.

"The most important thing is that they enjoy their football; they come to have fun and get fit. But these kinds of games against serious opposition also give them the confidence that they can integrate and compete with anyone," Mr Muscat said.

Being deaf affects the balance of some players, said Mr Muscat, and there are obvious problems in letting each other know what is happening on the pitch. But despite this, the players pushed Swieqi United all the way in the game and there was little to choose between the two sides.

"They gave us a very good game and they have some excellent players. We had to work very hard for the result," Swieqi United assistant coach Daniel McKean said.

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