Sports

Football 7-a-side

Michael Barker

The ParalympicsGB football 7-a-side team that will compete at Rio 2016 comprises players from the English, Scottish and Northern Irish teams.

GB finished 7th in Beijing, where they were making their first appearance in the sport since 1992. The team for 2012 set a target of a top 6 finish in the rankings, but unfortunately just narrowly missed it, finishing 7th overall.

After a difficult start to their tournament in London, where the team faced Brazil and 2011 World Champions Ukraine in their opening two pool matches, the Great Britain team regained their form and their confidence to defeat the USA 4-0. The team narrowly lost Argentina 3-4 after extra time, sending them into the 7th-8th place play-off match. But they rallied to beat the USA for the second time in the tournament and secured a final ranking of 7th.

Of the 14 athletes who will compete at Rio 2016, all but two of the team make their Paralympic debut; just former Everton FC Academy player Michael Barker and Scottish veteran Jonathan Paterson return from London and both will compete in their third Games.

Among the new players are former Birmingham City FC player Jack Rutter and Sean Highdale who previously played for Liverpool FC and also represented England at Under-16s level. Both Jack and Sean joined the national football 7-a-side teams after acquired brain injuries. The squad also features former Tranmere Rovers forward Ollie Nugent, who currently plays for Chester FC.

Outside of Paralympic competition, the players compete for their home nations and draw experience from recent European and World Championship competition throughout the cycle. At the 2015 Cerebral Palsy World Championships at St George's Park, the England team achieved their best ever performance with a 5th place finish, which secured a slot for Great Britain at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

  • First year at a Paralympic Games:
  • New York 1984
  • Brief history:
  • Edinburgh hosted the first football 7-a-side international tournament in 1978 before it was introduced at the Paralympic Games
  • Eligible impairment groups:
  • All players must be ambulant athletes who have cerebral palsy or an acquired brain injury 
  • London medal table:
  • 1 - Russia
    2 - Ukraine
    3 - Iran
    7 - GBR
  • Did you know:
  • The most successful Paralympic football 7-a-side nation has been the Netherlands, who won all three golds between 1988 and 1996. Great Britain’s best performance remains a solitary bronze in 1984.
  • London 2012 venue: 
  • Riverbank Arena, Olympic Park
  • Rio 2016 venue:
  • National HOckey Centre (Deodoro Zone)

Rules:

Players are allocated a number between five and eight depending on their degree of impairment, with class five for the highest level of impairment. Each side must maintain a line-up featuring players with varying levels of impairments, and each team of seven must include one athlete from class five or six.

The rules differ from those of Olympic football in several respects: each team consists of seven players, the measurements of the playing field and goalposts are smaller, there is no offside rule and matches last 30 minutes per half. For reasons of fairness, throw-ins are only allowed with one hand.

Competition is in the form of a group round-robin, after which the top two ranked teams from each group progress to the knock-out stages of competition. For Rio eight teams will qualify, making up two groups of four.

Classification:

In football 7-a-side, athletes are given a classification of between 5 and 8.

Class 5 footballers will have difficulty in dynamic movements such as turning, pivoting and stopping and will see exertion have the most effect on their functionality compared to other classes. In particular stride length, balance during throw-ins and foot extensions when passing the ball are affected by exertion.

Class 6 footballers will have difficulty in dynamic movements such as turning, pivoting and stopping. They will also have difficulty with explosive movements and vertical jumps. They will have delayed saving or protective reactions when falling or losing balance. Reduced accuracy when planting the non-passing foot, difficulty with balance on the stance leg and reduced stability in the kicking ankle joint can all affect a player’s accuracy in passing the ball. Coordination and timing difficulties may be seen when the player is tracking, dribbling with or kicking the ball.

Class 7 footballers often walk with a noticeable limp and when sprinting usually has a limitation in knee pick-up and asymmetrical stride length. Running may appear to be symmetrical but there is a difference in step length, stance time and often an inconsistency in heel strike. Players will have difficulty in pivoting and balancing on the impaired side. Hip placement on the affected side frequently affects both passing and shooting power.

Class 8 footballers may appear to have near-normal function but will experience tremors or small joint movements. Some players will not be able to place their heel to the ground completely on their affected side. Some players will not be able to pivot or turn on their affected side to the same degree as their non-affected side. Crossing the ball can be particular difficult for those players with balance or lack of coordination. When attacking, the player’s impulse impairment creates a slight but significant hesitation.

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