Alexandre Toledo used to be a professional soccer player in Brazil's Minas Gerais state, but in 1996 a motorcycle accident injured his left leg so badly that the limb was eventually amputated.

As serious as the damage was, it did not put a stop to Toledo's passion for soccer. Now, with just one leg, he plays with an amateur team as goalie.

Following his injury, Toledo first started played soccer again one day at the beach, knowing that if he fell down it would only be on sand.

Following his injury, Toledo first started played soccer again one day at the beach, knowing that if he fell down it would only be on sand.

He said he received a lot of support from friends and he now regularly attends matches with his amateur team, accompanied by his young son Gu.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

With soccer fever taking hold of Brazil as it prepares to host the World Cup, Toledo continues to play with his amateur team Moleque Travesso and thrill people with his ability 18 years after his accident.

With soccer fever taking hold of Brazil as it prepares to host the World Cup, Toledo continues to play with his amateur team Moleque Travesso and thrill people with his ability 18 years after his accident.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Slideshow

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Toledo holds up a photo of himself with a teammate taken when he was a second division professional player.

Toledo holds up a photo of himself with a teammate taken when he was a second division professional player.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Toledo dresses before an match against rival club, Jardim Regina Pirituba.

Toledo dresses before an match against rival club, Jardim Regina Pirituba.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

He walks on crutches past a teammate before an amateur match at Corinthians field in Sao Paulo.

He walks on crutches past a teammate before an amateur match at Corinthians field in Sao Paulo.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Toledo stands by the goal during a game.

Toledo stands by the goal during a game.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

He blocks a shot from a player from Jardim Regina Pirituba club during another match.

He blocks a shot from a player from Jardim Regina Pirituba club during another match.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Toledo rests during the game.

Toledo rests during the game.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Following an amateur game, Toledo prepares to kick a ball as his son stands in goal.

Following an amateur game, Toledo prepares to kick a ball as his son stands in goal.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Toledo blocks a shot by a rival player from Eai do Sape club.

Toledo blocks a shot by a rival player from Eai do Sape club.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

He watches an amateur match at Colorado field as his crutches lean against a wall.

He watches an amateur match at Colorado field as his crutches lean against a wall.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Witness

"Alexandre said that the greatest challenges are mental, not physical."

20 May 2014. Nacho Doce, Reuters Photographer

Alexandre Toledo, age 36, plays soccer with his amateur team every Saturday in the fields around Sao Paulo. He's one among 22 players on the pitch, but he's the only one with just one leg.

Alexandre, a former professional player for a soccer club in Minas Gerais state, injured his left leg in 1996 in a motorcycle accident while vacationing on the coast. He struggled for a year to regain use of the limb, but in 1997, with the support of his father, he made the difficult decision to have it amputated.

"My father looked me in the eyes and said, 'Alexandre, the decision is yours and it's not an easy one. If you decide to amputate the leg I want you to lift your head up and get out and live your life. It's no use hanging your head and crying over it just because you still have us, because we won't be around forever.'"

I first met Alexandre via email, when I wrote to him asking for permission to photograph him play. With soccer fever gripping Brazil as the World Cup approaches, I decided to accompany him to the outskirts of Sao Paulo over the course of several Saturdays. He would arrive on crutches with his son Gu, who always came to these matches with his dad.

When I first saw Alexandre I thought it was going to be hard to watch him play, let alone photograph him; blocking goals with his disability couldn't be easy. But today I laugh at myself for thinking that. The lesson that Alexandre taught me was that if you really want to do something, you can.

During matches, Alexandre and Gu would emerge last from the locker room onto the field to join the team in saying a prayer before kickoff. As I photographed him from behind the goal, I became Alexandre's number one fan. Whenever he blocked a shot I would yell, "Great defence Alexandre!" He would never lose concentration and he spoke with his teammates to motivate them and guide their strategy. Watching him lunge for the ball on just one leg left me speechless.

Alexandre said that the greatest challenges are mental, not physical. He doesn't care what rival players think about him with just one leg.

I asked him how he managed to go back to playing after losing the limb. With a big smile he said that after the accident a good friend asked him to go to the beach, where he was invited to join a soccer game. He tossed his prosthetic leg aside knowing that if he fell it would only be on sand. He hasn't stopped playing since.

"I want everyone to know that my friends who gave me a chance and trusted me are part of my victory. It wouldn't have worked for me simply to walk onto a soccer field with one leg and crutches and ask to play."

He's now been playing soccer on one leg for 17 years and receives recognition wherever he takes part in the sport. Children want to shake his hand and take a picture with him. When he plays soccer with his son they take turns as goalie and kicker.

As I documented his story, what I saw was a team that fully trusts its goalie and holds him in enormous respect. The last match I saw was close to a favela that wasn't necessarily dangerous, but certainly a place to be careful. In the first half Alexandre made a spectacular save. The screams from the rival fans were loud, but they were in praise of what they saw: "Wow, what a save!"

Alexandre gave them a thumbs up.

In the second half he made another great save, and I let out a "Wow!" from behind the goal. I was also pleased to have the picture in focus. My story was done.

At the end of the match a 17-year-old boy approached us and said, "When I first saw him walk onto the field with crutches I told myself that they would score 10 goals against him." In the end Alexandre made two saves and the match ended 0-0. The boy said Alexandre was a model example for footballers and for all of us when it comes to overcoming an accident. "He shows how great soccer is in our country."

Toledo poses for a photograph before playing an amateur match in Sao Paulo.

Toledo poses for a photograph before playing an amateur match in Sao Paulo.

REUTERS/Nacho Doce