Pararoos battle heroically but miss out on Rio
Pararoos record win against Portugal, but fail to qualify for Rio after losses to Ireland, Russia.
The Pararoos may have failed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics, but the side has left London with its head held high with its achievements.
Victorian Ben Roche was part of the 14-strong squad that travelled to London to take part in the 2015 Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships, which also served as a qualifier for the Rio De Janeiro 2016 Paralympics.
The Australians bowed out after a win against Portugal in the opening game, before losses to Ireland and Russia send them into a playoff for 11th and 12th spots and ultimately out of qualification for Rio.
"Unfortunately no qualification for Rio," Roche said.
"With our limited preparation, new coaching staff, and new style of play, we can hold our heads high with what we achieved.
"We played some exciting football and the future is looking very bright."
The tournament began on June 13, with the Australians arriving the week before to begin preparation.
Staying on the site of the tournament at St George's Park, the Pararoos made the three-year-old state-of-the-art facility worth more than $200 million their home.
Their first game was against Portugal and they came out of it with a 2-0 win, courtesy of a James Turner brace.
To Roche, there was no better feeling than being back competing after last year's funding controversy.
"It felt incredible, emotions were running high in the change rooms before the game," Roche said.
"You could see how much it meant to each individual, all who had worked so hard to get there.
"No better feeling than putting on the Green and Gold."
The next two games were tougher, with the Australians coming up against the Republic of Ireland and Russia.
A brace from Ireland's Dylan Sheridan helped the Irish to a 4-1 win over the Aussies, while the Australians were valiant in a 5-0 defeat against top-ranked side Russia.
"We went out and focused on our style of football rather than just parking the bus and them playing around us," Roche said.
"Republic of Ireland and Russia are strong forces.
"Russia being World Number 1 and paid professionals, it was always going to be a challenge."
The loss to Russia sealed Australia's fate in not being able to qualify for Rio 2016 as only the top eight teams would go through. But the journey wasn't yet over; the Aussies still had one game to go in a playoff for 11th and 12th place.
After a hard-fought game against the team they beat in the opening game, the Pararoos went down on penalties, losing 4-3 after a 1-1 draw after extra time.
"Players had given it all against Portugal in final game," Roche said.
"Not only that but the time, money and training you put in to get there it's quite devastating. I took it quite hard. To lose on penalties is never nice.
"The Pararoos are a family and are very supportive of each other."
While Rio 2016 isn't on the itinerary for the Pararoos, the team now has a chance to go back to Australia knowing what they can achieve.
For now, it's imperative the program goes on.
The Pararoos suffered a setback in 2014 after the withdrawal of Government funding threatened the squad’s progress towards the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games and without funding they will eventually be forced from the field entirely.
The Pararoos have now established a partnership with the Australian Sports Foundation to raise money through tax deductible donations to help ensure they remain on the pitch.
Donating to the Pararoos will not only help get the team to Rio, but it will also encourage many more aspiring disabled footballers to continue to strive for their dream. Every dollar raised through the Australian Sports Foundation will go directly to the Pararoos and donations over $2 is tax deductible.
Donations can be made by logging onto https://asf.org.au/project/go-pararoos
Roche urged people to get behind the Pararoos and help them make the next major tournament.
"Some fresh faces to team stepped up and it's exciting to see that the next generation is coming through," Roche said.
"It is now important the state programs get as much support as possible."