Mozambique athletics great Mutola turns to football

By Steve VickersBBC Sport, Maputo

When Maria Mutola finished fifth in the 800m final at the Beijing Olympics at the age of 35, it seemed that would be the last we would see of the "Maputo Express" in sporting action.

But three years on from retiring from athletics, Mutola has re-invented herself as a footballer and is captaining Mozambique at the All-Africa Games in her home town of Maputo.

It brings full circle a sporting career that brought her Olympic gold and 10 world titles, because Mutola was persuaded to take up running when she was spotted playing football with boys on the streets of Maputo.

Now she lives in the South African city of Johannesburg and turns out for Pretoria-based club Mamelodi Sundowns in the national women's league - having resumed her footballing career with a smaller club in 2009.

Mutola told BBC Sport: "It came as a surprise - a friend of mine was playing in South Africa and she asked me to go and help them a little bit.

"They saw that I can still play, so they asked me and I decided to give it a try - and I kind of liked it.

"It's like coming home - I know how to play the game, I only needed a bit of training, and I've been doing that, so I think it is coming together at the moment."

Mutola's athletics career brought her no fewer than 10 world titles - indoor and out - and Olympic gold in Sydney 2000.

With her home country hosting the "African Olympics", Mutola's sporting transformation has given her an unlikely opportunity to take part in the biggest sporting event that Mozambique has ever hosted.

Mozambique are in the women's football tournament by virtue of being hosts but they are the weakest of the eight teams with a mostly young and inexperienced squad being assembled only a few months ago.

Playing as a lone striker, Mutola displayed plenty of skill and was comfortable on the ball in Mozambique's opening game against Cameroon, although the Mambas lost the game 1-0 and were lucky not to go down more heavily.

So the chances of a medal for Mutola and her team-mates are slim but it is still another memorable chapter for the former runner in her career.

She said: "I had a call from the national team to come for the All-Africa Games to try to help this new team.

"I won three medals on the track in the past at the All-Africa Games and to be part of Mozambique's hosting is exciting, even though I'm not taking part as a runner.

"I wish that time would reverse a bit so that I could run for Mozambique here but I'm very pleased to be part of these Games."