The Australian Paralympic football team has departed the CP World Championships in St. Georges, England with their heads held high, but with a lot of work to do to improve their status in the world game.
Australia’s Men’s Paralympic Football Team, or the Pararoos as they are affectionately called, had to finish in the top 8 to secure qualification for the Rio Paralympics, as the International Paralympic Committee only permit eight teams to compete.
With funding only just re-established and only 4 preparatory camps before the tournament it was always going to be a difficult task to come second out of the group competing with the World Champions Russia, Republic of Ireland and Portugal.
The Aussies started off the tournament in fine form defeating Portugal 2-0 after James Turner applied his trade scoring both and securing the all-important first three points.
"Today was a big team effort from everyone on and off the field. Zac Jones gave an excellent debut, James Turner scored 2 goals and Chris Barty's heroics throughout the game kept Australia in the Game” head coach Kai Lammert said.
In his interview Lammert indicated that the Pararoos have adapted to the Football played by all Australian teams now, suggesting that Football Federation Australia dictate the style of play to be used by the coach, however, whether this ploy is successful for the Pararoos remains to be seen.
In the second match, Ireland dominated through goals from scoring sensation Dylan Sheridan and with the Aussies dropping deep to defend in their defensive third, Ireland looked more comfortable on the ball as the game went on.
The Irish had the Pararoos pushed right back into their defensive third, which allowed them to switch the ball freely and shoot from range, but the Aussies did well to get the toe in and keep the deficit to one going into the break.
In the second half the Irish stopped the Aussies from playing out, forcing Barty to distribute long, but in most cases the Irish coming up with possession, but failing to get in behind a defensive block of green and gold.
The Australians tried to play long balls out, but more often than not the ball was played out to an isolated attacker making it difficult for the Aussies to use combination play to keep possession in the attacking half.
The clincher came at the 38 minute mark after a long range shot from Sheridan on the left beat Barty, partially blinded by the cross goal run of the Irish striker Jason Moran.
Barber brought the Aussies back within range, off a penalty when he was brought down in the box, but the Republic of Ireland countered with two more as the space started to open up in their attacking third.
In the final group match the Australians came up against London Paralympic gold medalists Russia, a team with a host of professional players that have dominated Paralympic football for some time and are in fact a class above most of the teams vying for Paralympic qualification.
Most western nations have embraced Paralympic football as the number one football for players with a disability with England, The Netherlands and Russia among others, having fully financed and organised para development academies and leagues.
Beaten for speed and technical superiority the Australians had no answer for the Russians who scored after 3 minutes when Eduard Ramonov beat two defenders and buried it in the bottom left corner.
Two minutes later the Russians went ahead again after holding possession and playing in Alexander Kuligin left un- marked at the far post.
The Aussies started to string some combinations together, but a tough pressing Russian defence made it difficult and the number one ranked team in the world dictated play and tempo. When the Aussies did get possession they failed to keep it and began to fatigue with the continual defending.
As the match neared its end, having done so much defending, the Pararoos looked lethargic and failed to string passes together to play out instead clearing out for the Russian attack to start again.
Ranked second in Asia, unfortunately unlike the Socceroos and the Matildas, the Pararoos must qualify by competing with the top European teams, a daunting task considering their stage of development.
With the program only recently reignited, after the Australian Sports Commission and Football Federation Australia axed the funding, it will be interesting to see the future plans for the Australian Pararoos on their journey to make their mark on their world game.
By Paul Brown