Australia will play the USA at Cromer Park on Saturday afternoon – and it won’t be friendly

Matt Cleary
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The United States’ best CP footballers are coming to Cromer Park on Saturday afternoon with a day to kill – or be killed.

Awaiting them will be the Australian Pararoos, the world’s 10th-ranked cerebral palsy (CP) international football team.

The Americans are ranked T4 in the world and beat Australia 5-1 in the group stage of the 2022 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football World Cup.

But they’re on Aussie turf now. And Australia will trot out a lethal weapon: Connor Bunce, a 20-year-old Wild Thing from the West with perhaps the best left foot in CP football.

It was there for all to see in Barcelona when Bunce shocked the world and put the Pararoos up one-nil against the powerhouse Americans.

Football Australia later named it Goal of the Year.

Bunce, from Albany in WA’s deep south, is a year older now. And if anything has a more “deadly left leg,” according to fellow 20-year-old mid-fielder, Daniel Campbell.

“He’s got an awesome left boot.

“If we can get him in space, in range he can hit anything from anywhere.

“He’s definitely one to watch,” Campbell says.

Conor Bruce versus USA. Pic: Football Australia.

Campbell is one, too.

The Coffs Harbour native has been playing football since the age of five.

He played rep football out of the Newcastle competition and is currently with North Ryde with a view to playing for Northern Spirit in National Premier Leagues.

He names Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi as his favourite player and admires the work ethic and consistency of Chelsea’s French centre-midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

Like both of those players, Campbell says he likes “having the ball, being on the ball, making things happen, taking on players, shooting, scoring.”

Daniel Campbell celebrates scoring against Canada at Cromer Park in 2020. Pic: Football Australia

CP Football has three classifications: From FT1 – the most impaired – through to FT3, the least.

Campbell is classified FT3. He has spastic diplegia – CP in both legs.

Each seven-a-side team may only have one FT3 player, and must have at least one FT1 player.

Most players are FT2 – typically with spastic hemiplegia affecting one side of their body.

Players with symptoms of stroke or acquired brain injury may also compete in the sport which has a smaller field, smaller goals, 30-minute halves and no offside.

Goalkeeper and Pararoos legend, David Barber. Pic: Football Australia.

Campbell says he has a ‘mild’ disability.

Aged 14 he debuted for NSW at the CP Nationals.

By age 15 was on tour with the Pararoos in San Diego.

In 2018 he debuted for Australia against the United States.

Outside the Wild Thing from the West with the cannon for a left leg, Campbell says Australians to watch include captain David Barber in the No.7 and defender Ben Roach in the No.2.

Of the visiting Americans, Campbell says “they’re all good”.

“They’re one of the powerhouses of world football. They have some of the best CP players in the world. So it’ll be good quality football.

“On both teams there’s technical players, skilful ones, and some – like Connor Bunce – who has a weapon of a left foot. He’s all power,” Campbell says.

The Pararoos versus Canada game in 2020 drew a crowd of 1200 at Cromer Park – the biggest CP football crowd for a match outside the Paralympics. Pic: Ann Ondong.

After Bunce’s strike in Spain, the USA levelled the scores almost immediately before class told and they ran away with the match.

Campbell says he hopes a good crowd will get down to Cromer Park on Saturday afternoon to see he and his mates do their best for Australia.

“It’ll be a very competitive match.

“We’re playing for Australia; they’re playing for the United States.

“It won’t be any one sort of football ‘style’.

“It’ll be technical and physical,” Campbell says.

One thing it won’t be is friendly.

Kick-off is at 3pm on Saturday, February 4. Tickets on the door or via Ticketek. Note: All ticket sales support the Pararoos’ program.

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