As the Matildas prepare to fly off to Rio in search of Olympic glory, and the Socceroos prepare for the second stage of their World Cup qualifying campaign beginning in just five weeks, the Pararoos are currently on international duty in Denmark competing in a 2016 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) CP Football Qualification Tournament for the Intercontinental Cup.

The Pararoos are our senior national disability football team, and in Denmark they’re competing to win a place in the 2017 Intercontinental Cup to be held in Argentina in September next year.

The 14-player Pararoos squad includes five debutantes, one of whom is 19-year-old Victorian keeper Christian Tsangas. Having previously won national representative honours at U19 level, Tsangas was, “rapt, he was amazed, he couldn’t believe it” when he learnt of his selection, according to his dad and former coach George Tsangas. “But he’s worked really hard for it. He trains on his own a lot – as well as training with Thornbury Athletic Football Club. His brother Jonathan plays as well so he trains a lot with his brother. They tend to go to the local football ground and train hard together. They motivate each other.”

Tsangas first came to the attention of national team selectors when representing his state Disability Football side in annual national tournaments. His ability as a shot stopper, as well as his ability to read the play, organise his defence, and communicate with teammates made him a standout.
George Tsangas says that his son’s selection for the Pararoos, “is great for his self-esteem, for his confidence. That’s the pinnacle of where they can get to these kids. To get to that level that’s the highest level. He’s achieved the biggest thing possible, to represent your country in the green and gold. But the hard work begins here, because at the moment he’s not the number one keeper. He’s currently working on that.”

Also in the squad is the more experienced keeper Sam Larkings, who won the Best Goalkeeper of the 2007 World Cup tournament.

Three Victorians selected in the Pararoos: L to R Cossimo Cirillo, Ben Roache and Christian Tsangas.

According to George Tsangas, the Pararoos’ senior coach Kai Lammert took Christian aside and said to him on his selection to the Denmark squad, “I’m taking you here for experience. But I can see you in the next five years being our number one. I can see great attributes. You’ve got a great attitude and a football mind.”

Christian currently plays for Victorian State League Division Five club, Thornbury Athletic FC keeping goal for its reserves team, but prior to that was at Northcote City where his dad ran the disability football program for three years. George says the participation rates in disability football in Victoria are growing with several clubs running disability football programs. The FFV is also now involved by running the state representative team, however it’s still working towards establishing a competitive league for clubs with disability football programs. The alternative at the moment, for players with talent and potential like Christian, is to play in the able-bodied system.

George Tsangas says, “I think the able-bodied system is good – and that’s a problem, trying to get kids out there and clubs accepting them, as far as their disability [is concerned]. There are a lot of good people out there and a lot of kids I used to work with, currently playing with able-bodied teams which is good. And people are starting to understand their conditioning and physicality. It’s a good thing, and to give them a chance as well, and to work around them. Might put them in the reserves, some of the younger ones might play in the U15 B side for instance at community clubs. They are starting to realise and give them more of a chance which is a good thing.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday evening our time, the Pararoos kick off their tournament in Denmark against the Spanish followed by a second group match against Scotland the day after. Depending on those results, they are hoping to then progress to the quarterfinals stage of the tournament.