2017 FIPFA World Cup
I was fortunate to be part of the Australian Poweroos team who travelled to Kissimmee, Florida for the 2017 Powerchair Football World Cup in June.
Powerchair football is a version of soccer designed specifically for powerchair users. Metal guards are mounted onto the wheelchairs and these are used to hit an oversized soccer ball.
The Australian Poweroos team included 3 athletes from Queensland and another 5 from New South Wales. The two contingents flew out from Australia at almost the same time, before we all met up at Los Angeles Airport, LAX. We all then took the same flight from LA to Orlando. In total, we travelled with 18 wheelchairs, which adds up to around 2 tonnes in weight. In fact, the weight was so much that some freight had to be unloaded from the LA-Orlando flight to keep it underweight. Despite some delays loading and unloading the wheelchairs, everything went smoothly and we all reached our destination in one piece.
We arrived close to a week before the start of the tournament, giving us ample time to recover from the lengthy travel. With several athletes with Muscular Dystrophy on the team, this extra time was invaluable. This also allowed us to do some training before the event began. After a few days of fine tuning, all the teams were given access to the official competition venue for practice matches and to finally see the competition courts. We had mixed results in our practice matches, including a 5-2 loss to the world champions, the USA, a 4-0 win over Canada and a 2-1 victory against Japan. We were in good touch before the games.
We also had to complete classification before the tournament. In powerchair football, there are two classes, PF1 and PF2. Each team must have a minimum of two PF1 classified players on the court at all times. PF1 athletes are weaker in terms of strength. The classification looks at vision, grip strength, body control and a number of other things. Each team was then presented to the crowd at the opening ceremony before the games began.
Our opening match took place against England. We were overwhelmed and came away with a 5-0 loss. We had a chance to make up for that bad start against Canada and won the match 4-2. With two matches left, we needed another win to ensure we made it out of the group stage, and in our first match the next day we scored an important 2-0 win against Ireland in a very tense encounter. Our last group match was against the eventual world champions France, and despite holding them out for most of the first half, we took a 4-0 loss.
Our results meant we would face Japan in the quarter finals, which we knew would be a tough match. It took some real strength of character to fight through a very difficult match. Going down 1-0 early, it took a lot of patience to get back into the game. We levelled the scores with 10 minutes to go, before finally scoring the winner and holding out for the last few minutes. Reaching the semi-finals was our goal for the tournament, and with our next match against France again, we knew we would have an extremely tough match ahead. Unfortunately, the French dominated and won 7-0. We then lost to England in the third-place play-off 3-0. Although it was a disappointing end to the tournament, we were incredibly proud to finish 4th. It’s hard to explain just what an honour it was to wear the green and gold of Australia.
As a spectator, the championship game between the USA and France was one of the most exciting games I have ever seen. France won the match 4-2 after going in to half time at 2-2. After watching these two incredible teams, we now know what we have to strive towards for the next world cup in 4 years’ time. It was an incredible event to be a part of. Bring on 2021!