TORONTO, August 6, 2015 – Canada’s young seven-a-side football team faces a big challenge if it wants to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games . It must win gold, and it also beat some of the best countries in the world at the Parapan American Games which run from August 7-15 in Toronto.
“We have two ways of looking at this tournament,” said Canada’s head coach Drew Ferguson, following a team practice at the Pan Am Field at the University of Toronto on Monday. “Obviously we are trying to come first and the get the ticket to Rio next year. And our next goal is to get on the podium.”
The players in football 7-a-side have cerebral palsy or a similar neurological disorder. There are no off-side rules and matches are 60 minutes (30 per half). There are four classifications and each side must maintain a line-up featuring players with varying levels of impairments.
The Canadians are coming off a 10th place finish at the World Championships in London. They posted a record of three wins and three losses at the tournament and received several exceptional performances including from Trevor Stiles of Victoria who scored Canada’s last six goals.
“We lost once in double overtime and were red carded in another loss so we are close to competing with some of the best teams in the world with some 17 and 18-year-olds in the line-up,” said Ferguson.
One of the top young guns is 18-year-old Liam Stanley of Victoria already twice named Canada’s para-soccer player of the year by Canada Soccer.
“We are really excited about these Games,” said Stanley, who made his national team debut at age 14. “We would love to leave here with a medal, especially in front of the home crowd.”
There are some solid veterans on the squad including Stiles and 31-year-old Dustin Hodgson, a member of Canada’s bronze medal winning team at the 2007 Parapan Am Games in Rio.
“We feel energized and ready to go,” said Hodgson. “We’ve had a chance to be together a lot this year with the worlds and a couple of training camps and that’s going to help a great deal. It’s our last tournament of the year, we are on home turf and we are going to be at our best.”
The 7-a-side football promises to be one of the fiercest competitions at the Games because many of the top countries are from the Americas including worlds bronze medallist Brazil, the U.S. and Argentina.
All of Canada’s preliminary round games start at 11 a.m. at the Pan Am Field : August 8 vs Argentina; August 9 vs the United States; August 12 vs Brazil and August 13 vs Venezuela.
The medal matches are August 14 at 9 a.m. (bronze) and 11 a.m. (gold).
Canadian Paralympic Committee