IRELAND's amputee football captain Simon Baker has said his side’s upcoming World Amputee Football Cup campaign is a “surreal thing”.
The country are taking part in the biennial competition for the first time today (Sunday, November 30) in the 14th edition, which takes place in Mexico.
And Ireland's captain believes playing in the event will be a proud moment for the team, even though it still has not sunk in.
“It’s a surreal thing. We had nice send-off on Thursday, with John Delaney from the FAI coming down to our hotel along with our family, friends and our junior side," said Baker.
“It hasn’t really sunk in (that we’re playing in a World Cup). We’re up for it. The lads realise we’ve a job to do, but we’re proud to be representing the country."
As well as the Chief Executive of the FAI, the team had a surprise guest last week when senior team assistant manager Roy Keane paid the side a visit.
Keane gave the side a motivational talk before the team flew out to Mexico on Friday.
Baker, who also founded the team, said that the former Manchester United player did not want cameras at the event.
“At first Roy didn’t want the cameras there because he didn’t want it to seem like a PR stunt. He had an interest in what we did,” said Baker.
“He spoke to the team for a good hour. He’s offered to do some training with us when we get back from Mexico. I think he linked in with our team because he could see the passion and dedication in us.”
On paper, Ireland’s group looks the toughest of the six, containing defending champions Uzbekistan, South American champions Brazil and Ukraine who are ranked eighth in the world.
“Everyone is saying we are in the group of death, but we’re happy enough with the draw," added Baker.
Despite the high calibre of opponents, Baker insists his side are capable of causing an upset.
He said: “We are confident. Everyone else is looking at us thinking ‘three easy points’, but they don’t realise we’ve been training six days a weeks for nine months.
“We’re going to make sure the lads are relaxed and we'll focus on the task. We’re not there to make up the numbers. We aim for the world to realise we are serious contenders.”
Baker believes one of the reasons Ireland have qualified for the World Cup is down to their fans.
With a following of nearly 2,500 on Facebook, the Ireland captain says comments on the social media site have helped spur the side on.
“We’ve had great support from our fans. It’s a great part of where we are today. Some of the messages we’ve had on our Facebook page, they’ve really touched us and made us patriotic," he said, adding:
“They’re definitely the 12th man. If people watching the World Cup could leave messages that will drive us on more.”
Baker is also hopeful the growing profile of amputee football in Ireland will also see his side treated like other international athletes.
“What we hope is people will see is that we are international athletes. We don’t want people to sympathise with us," he said.
“We’ve played against able-bodied teams in the past and for the first few minutes, they have sympathy - that goes out of the window when they realise they have a serious game on their hands.
“We say we can do a small amount of the things Robbie Keane does, but we guarantee he can’t do what we do!”
Ireland play Brazil today at 16.30 GMT; Uzbekistan (Dec 1, 16.30 GMT) and Ukraine (Dec 2, 15.00 GMT) in the group stages.
All their matches can be watched for free at www.internetv.tv.