Masters (O45) and
Morrell Cup (open)
Mar Del Plata '22
Written by Dr. Niruban
After a prolonged hiatus due to covid and its ramifications, the Morell squad for Team Canada Medical football was excited and ready to return to action in beautiful Mar Del Plata in September of 2022. The prospect of seeing old faces return and new faces joining the ranks of the squad, along with meeting friends from other countries, made for an electric atmosphere en route to Argentina. Armed with a new coaching and physiotherapy team in Hamoudie and Shawn, team chemistry was at an all-time high, and despite a lack of exposure to the squad leading up to the tournament, Hamoudie and Shawn were able to establish a system and discipline within the squad, gaining the confidence and buy-in from the entire organization. Some challenges had presented themselves, including late season injuries and extenuating circumstance precluding some team members from making the journey, and as a group we all came together to fill in the necessary gaps and conducted ourselves with grace and honour.
The Morell squad drew a challenging group in the opening ceremonies with Australia, Argentina and Brazil. The opening game against Australia was hard-fought with flashes of brilliance seen in the link-up between defence and midfield. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned last minute absences, the team had been missing a natural striker but thanks to Jeff Anderson, dominant goal keeper and voice on the pitch, we were able to maintain a fierce Viking-like presence in the last third of the pitch. A defensive lapse led to a late goal by the Australian squad, and in the attempt to press for the equalizer, a second goal was conceded to end the game at 2-0 for Australia.
Taking the loss with stride given the circumstances leading up to the tournament and the absences in the squad, team Canada set forth for the next clash against a powerful Brazilian side. Team Canada football was on full display for the first half of the match, maintaining possession for stretches and keeping the Brazilians at bay in the middle of the park. Towards the end of the half, the veteran Brazilian squad showed incredible team play, ball distribution and clinical finishing burying 2 rare chances in the back of the net. The second half told a different story as the Canadians pressed on with continuing pressure and were able to cut the lead down to 1 thanks to a header by left back Graham Black that was saved on the line, but then slotted in the back of the net by winger Niruban Nirthananthan. Again late in the second half with the forward press came space allowing a Brazilian counterattack and goal to end the game 3-1, with the major positive being a much improved pace and presence on the ball, along with better movement and distribution by the Canadians in the second half.
Going into the next game 0-2, team Canada were pitted against the host nation Argentina. With a much needed win, Canada pressed early and controlled ball possession, but finishing in the last third remained elusive with the lack of striker personnel. Argentina were the more clinical side in consisting and found the net twice to secure the win, leaving Canada in last place in the group.
Team Canada had then moved onto the knock out stage to play the teams that had finished in the latter half of the table. First up would be Venezuela, who came into the game with only one tie in the first 3 games. Team Canada would show a different side as they attacked early and frequently. On a scramble possession in the opposing box, Stuart McAdam was relentless and crashed the net, netting Canada the first goal of the game and the lead. The game continued in the same manner until the waning seconds, when a rare Venezuelan counter attack led to a free kick outside the box. The free kick was saved by veteran goalkeeper Roman Tulis, but the rebound was half-volleyed back in the net by an unmarked Venezuelan player. The whistle was blown shortly thereafter and the game would move on to penalties. It was a wild back and forth exchange with Canada saving the 5th Venezuelan attempt to stay alive. Unfortunately, bad luck would continue as Canada would miss their 6th attempt and Venezuela would finish it. Another heart-wrenching loss for the red and white, but with head held high and class on and off the pitch.
Team Canada’s Vogel (over-45) team was happy and grateful to return to the World Medical Football Championship in Argentina this year. The tournament had been suspended for two years while the world was dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The number of countries participating in this year’s competition was reduced compared to previous years, but there is a lot of positive momentum moving forward and it seems likely to return to its previous size in the future. There was a sense of excitement, and camaraderie among all competitors as we took this important step towards returning to “normal” after two difficult years of social distancing and anxiety. Our players were very proud to represent our country and contribute to the revival of this amazing event. The one notable exception to the positive energy of this event was the conspicuous absence of the team from Ukraine. We sincerely hope that they can join us again under better circumstances at future events.
It was very exciting to be able to play soccer in a country like Argentina. They are clearly passionate about this game, and this contributed to the energy of this event. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, while clearing customs, the border agents were even excited to joke with us and remind us that Argentina will be the likely winners! The level of competition between teams was high, but it was combined with an impressive level of respect and friendship between them as well. We are all bonded by our shared experience of practicing medicine during a global pandemic, in addition to our appreciation for the sport that brought us together. I have never participated in a tournament where there was such a high level of respect between competitors. One of my best memories of the tournament was singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at full volume on the bus, with Team Mexico, on the way back to the hotel after a game!
Team Canada performed very well during the games as well. Only thirteen players were able to travel for the tournament, and we sustained a few injuries as it progressed. At the end of the tournament, we were only able to field a team of 10 players, yet we still competed hard! The team roster consisted of the first female player for Canada at the WMFC, and she scored a goal as well! We didn’t have a dedicated goal-keeper, and this spot was often filled with a player from the Morrell (open) team, who played nine games in six days! The team came together and adapted to the scheme devised by our coach (who had never met any of us until the day before the tournament started). In the end, we finished with three wins and three losses, and finished a respectable 5th place! Congratulations to the team from Brazil, who won the Vogel tournament, and thanks to the team from Argentina for organizing it. Special thanks to the team from Mexico, for contributing so positively to the atmosphere and sportsmanship of the event.
Overall, this was an incredible event that will be remembered fondly by all who participated, in spite of a little tension pneumothorax (don’t worry – he’s okay now!). This was an excellent way to return to the WMFC. Based on this experience, and the building enthusiasm among players from the Team Canada Medical Football organization, I suspect that we will be participating in this event for years to come.