Keith Webb’s English Three Lions ready to roar in Cerebral Palsy Football World Championship opener
- Credit: The FA via Getty Images
England will be hoping to spring a surprise on Japan when the pair lock horns at St George's Park this afternoon.
Before the Three Lions take on heavyweight Ukraine they lift the curtain on this summer's World Cerebral Palsy (CP) Championship against the Asians. So Keith Webb's 14-man squad will be desperate to get off to a good start when the first of the 40-plus small-sided matches between players with CP gets under way at 1pm.
The hosts' head coach, a former Norwich City youth and reserve chief, said: 'We know all about Ukraine. They're the 2014 European champions, where we finished joint fifth.
'We drew 1-1 with them in the group but were two minutes away from beating them. Had we have held on it would have been like when USA beat England (1950 World Cup). We know what we are able to produce although we are under no illusions we've got a mammoth task to get out of the group (A).
'We don't know much about Japan but they don't also know much about us. We played really well at the Euros and we've improved since then so if we can improve on last year's performances I then can't ask for much more from the boys. They're worked so hard to get ready for this.'
Competitors are categorised between five and eight – depending upon the severity of the impairment caused by their neurological condition that affects movement and co-ordination. Eight is the least affected and five the most. Sides can have no more than one eight on the field at any time and must have a minimum of one five in action.
Two of the main other stipulations are that matches are seven-a-side and last 30 minutes a half.
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Webb said: 'When you're doing your coaching course you do an 8v8 game on a pitch of this sort of size with mainstream players. So the physical demands for those with CP is unbelievable. These players really do work hard.
'We've been pushing the boys in training and I don't treat them any differently to how I treated non-disabled players. I think they appreciate that. They just want to play football and now they are going to on a world stage with facilities that are absolutely superb.'
The brother of Aston Villa's Scott Sinclair, Martin, is part of the home country's glory charge and hopes he can become a figure that a vast number of people look up to – just like his more famous sibling has.
'Scott said to me: 'I play in the Premier League but I cannot inspire someone like you can. You're a role model to everyone in that little family,' said Martin, talking to the FA.
'That's what we are – a family of people with CP – and we can give that hope, that belief. We want to give role models for young people to be inspired by – that's what we want to bring as the cerebral palsy team.
'And I thought: 'I can do that. I can help with that.''
Ukraine will not take on Iran at 3pm after the latter were removed from the competition for being unable to get visas. Elsewhere, in Group B, Australia do battle with Portugal (5pm) and Russia go toe-to-toe with Republic of Ireland (7pm).
A statement from the International Federation for CP football said: 'It is with great regret that the IFCPF and Local Organising Committee (LOC) must announce that the Iran team will not be taking part in the World Football Championships starting on June 16, for reasons beyond the Federation's control.
'The tournament will now be for 15 teams, with Group A being a three team group. Spectators who have purchased tickets for games involving Iran will be contacted shortly and be reimbursed or offered an alternative game.'