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Published 17 April 2023 4 min read
England Para Teams

England Cerebral Palsy's head coach assesses the 2023 IFCPF European Championship draw

Written by:

Frank Smith

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'You are always confident when you have your best players on the pitch'

Head coach Andy Smith has stressed the importance of England Cerebral Palsy winning their group if they are to secure a medal at the EURO in June.

The Para Lions head into the 2023 IFCPF European Championship at the CFF Tino Carta in Oristano, Sardinia, as the second seed and face five games in nine days.

England will kick off their EURO campaign against Spain on Friday 2 June before facing Italy two days later on Sunday 4 June.

Smith’s team will then conclude Group A on Tuesday 6 June against the Netherlands, who England lost to on penalties at last year’s IFCPF World Cup in the fifth-sixth-place match, having previously drawn 1-1 in the group stage.

England are the second highest-ranked team in the tournament, with the Para Lions currently fourth in the world, with the Netherlands sixth, Spain 12th and Italy 20th.

World number one side Ukraine are in Group B, alongside the Republic of Ireland (ranked eighth), Germany (10th) and Scotland (18th).

All eight teams progress to the next stage of the tournament, with the group winners facing the runners-up from the other pool in the semi-finals on Thursday 8 June, with the third and fourth-placed teams also facing off.

Andy Smith is involved with the development of several Para Lions teams
Andy Smith is involved with the development of several Para Lions teams

The final and ranking matches will then take place on Saturday 10 June to see who will become European champion.

Smith said: “Being in the same pot as Ukraine, we were always going to avoid them, so it was always going to be between the Netherlands or Ireland in terms of the next seeds and I think because of how notoriously physical the games between England and Ireland are, I was probably happier to be drawn against the Netherlands.

“We were unable to beat the Netherlands in two games during the last World Cup and they knocked Ireland out, so on paper it is the tougher game, but I think we might be better suited to playing the Netherlands.

“They are both coming over for the Tri-Nations at St. George’s Park next week so we will be able to see them then.

“I was happy to avoid Scotland in the draw as I think they will be stronger than people think, and Italy are a new team.

“Then between Germany and Spain, we probably know the Germans better and they have a style of play which suits us better, whereas the Spanish style can be more challenging.

“So it was a draw which could have been better but it certainly could have been worse as well.

“We have to win our group because Ukraine will almost certainly win their group and everyone will be hoping to avoid them in the semi-finals.”

Smith added he was pleased to see Ukraine would be able to attend the tournament ‘as they are good friends of ours’.

Sam Dewhirst in action against the Netherlands at last year's IFCPF World Cup
Sam Dewhirst in action against the Netherlands at last year's IFCPF World Cup

Ukraine are widely considered to be one of the best teams in the world, alongside Russia and Iran, finishing runners-up at the last EURO in 2018 before winning the World Cup last year.

The Republic of Ireland finished third in the 2018 EURO and look set to welcome a few of their bronze-medal-winning team out of retirement for this tournament.

And Smith said: “There are going to be two levels of opposition in the semi-finals because Ukraine are the reigning world champions.

“Whether it is Scotland, Ireland or Germany who also come out of that group, you would be happier facing them than Ukraine.”

England may be second seed for 2023 IFCPF European Championship but Smith acknowledged they are struggling with injuries to some key players leading up to the tournament, which could impact his team’s hopes of reaching the final in Sardinia.

Smith said: “We have three or four key players who are unable to train as much as they would like to be at this stage because of injuries, so that is a concern for us.

“Without those players, we are not as strong so if we can get to the semi-final stage with all of them fit enough to play, then I would want us to get to the final because we are second seeds.

“If we got to the final and did face Ukraine, then I think their style of play is maybe more suited to us and we have done ok against them in the past. 

“Ukraine are more patient in their play because they are so confident in their ability that they will wait until the second half, whereas Iran and Russia – the other two in the top three in the world - are teams who go for your throat and want the game won in 20 minutes.

“You are always confident when you have your best players on the pitch that you have an opportunity to cause an upset and I feel we could do well against Ukraine if we met them in the final.”