Israeli men and women advance to playoffs of European Flag Football Championship

The three-day event has been featuring both the women's and men's divisional tournaments; their national teams came into the tournament with identical European and world rankings.

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September 1, 2019 11:03
Israeli men and women advance to playoffs of European Flag Football Championship

Photos from the European Flag Football Tournament in Israel. (photo credit: ODED KARNI)

As the ninth Flag Football European Championship completed its preliminary group stages of competition this Friday in Israel – with teams hailing from over 21 European countries – Sunday's medal round schedule is now set after two days of fierce competition.

The three-day event – taking place at Jerusalem's Kraft Family Sports Campus – has been featuring both the Women's and Men's divisional tournaments. The Israeli women's and men's national teams were ranked identically before the tournament's start – second in Europe and fifth in the world – which put the two Israeli teams in a great position to take home this year's gold.




Flag football is a modified version of American football involving less contact. The general rules are similar to those of conventional American football, but instead of the defensive team tackling the offensive player to stop the ball's advance, it must remove the flag from the ball. It is considered a more recreational way to play the game, as it avoids physical contact and injury.

The men's and women's competitions were both divided into "A" and "B" divisions for the group stage of competition, containing strong competitors from all over Europe, some of which have dominated these competitions in recent years.

The tournament marks the reunification of European Flag Football, after a split in the International Federation of American Football  resulted in two separate European Championships being played in the summer of 2017 that were held separately in Madrid and Copenhagen, according to the IFAF.


ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE, Austria has dominated division "A", holding a tournament record of 5-0, and scoring over 223 points while giving up just 40 points. Following closely behind them is Great Britain (4-1) and Spain (3-2), who have all advanced to the medal rounds.

Austria started as the heavy favorite to win the tournament, with an already stellar resume of winning more than half of the nine European competitions held with five gold medals, including taking first place on the Madrid stage in 2017.



In regards to the other European championship played in Copenhagen, Denmark is the co-title defender after winning the separately held 2017 championship during the split.

Denmark (4-0) has kept up its momentum this weekend throughout division "B", going undefeated throughout the group stages, and delivering the Israeli women their only defeat of the competition so far. France (2-2) will join Israel and Denmark in the medal rounds this Sunday.


IN THE MEN'S DIVISION, Israel (4-1) took full command of Group "A", beating last year's Madrid tournament winner Austria on the final play of the game. The score was tied 26-26, leading into the last seconds of the game. With time winding down, Israeli coach Binyamin Schultz called for a "Hail Mary" toss into the end zone from 40 yards out - hoping and praying that such a last-ditch effort with little chance of success will work.

The pass is called a "Hail Mary" because the play is mainly used in times of desperation, almost like throwing the pass up in prayer.

However, the Israeli men's prayers were answered. Defensive player Johnathan Curran was inserted into the line up to assist in running the long pass play. While most of the Austrian team believed that Curran would act as a receiver during the attempt, on a trick play the Israeli team snapped the ball to Curran, who then hurled it over 40 yards into the end zone.

While the Austrian team successfully deflected the pass, the ball landed directly into the arms of Israeli receiver Danial Mikhailov - putting Israel atop Group "A" and in great position to take home the coveted title.



While the surprises were mostly evident throughout the Group "A" match-ups, the competition in Group "B" proved to be more predictable - with Denmark going undefeated throughout the competition. Although struggling in several games throughout the tournament, the team always emerged victorious.

Denmark has proven year after year to be the European powerhouse, winning five straight gold medals, including taking home the 2017 Copenhagen title. Before the tournament's start, the Austrian men were proving to be their toughest competition, as they took home the gold in Madrid, a tournament that Denmark missed. With Israel's latest victory over Madrid, however, this year's gold is up for grabs.

"As one of the leading sports in Israel, we are very proud with the results of the Israeli team and the achievement of [our women] reaching the quarterfinals and [our men] reaching the semifinals," said Yonah Mishaan, American Football in Israel (AFI) vice president and formerly a longtime women’s coach.

Mishaan believes that both Israeli teams have what it takes to prove themselves worthy on this year’s gridiron, and can take home the title with a home-field advantage.


SUNDAY'S PLAYOFFS start at 8 a.m. (all times are local Israel time), with the Israeli women taking on Spain in the quarterfinals to decide who will play Austria in the semifinals. Great Britain will simultaneously be playing France to decide who plays Denmark in their division.

The Men's quarterfinals will feature last year's tournament champions Austria taking on Italy to see who will meet Israel in the semifinals, while Great Britain will play France to decide the Group "B" semifinals against Denmark - almost mirroring the women's bracket.

Semifinal games begin at 10:30 p.m. starting with the women's division with the men's semifinals starting at noon, following the quarterfinal matches.

Winners of the semifinal games will meet their divisional counterparts in the gold medal matches to decide who will be this year's champion.

The women's gold medal game will be played at 3:45 p.m., followed by the men's gold match game which will be played at 5 p.m.

The Israeli teams have both been looking strong throughout this year's competition, after both teams earned silver medals at the 2017 Copenhagen European Championship, and the women reaching seventh place at the 2016 International World Championships in Florida.

There is a strong possibility, with the way the two Israeli teams have been playing throughout this tournament, that both the Israeli women and men can take home this year's title.


MANY OF the Israeli athletes are amateur players who participate in these tournaments year after year. Many of them also volunteer with domestic youth programs in an effort to make sports a larger part of Israeli life.

Sarah Meissenberg of the women's team – a nurse by day and a member of the Israeli Women's National Lacrosse team and a football player by night – made aliyah from the U.S. in 2013, and has been working hard to make the country a more sporting place. She currently coaches a group of young girls in lacrosse and flag football, bringing the American bravado and sports culture across the sea to the Mediterranean Holy Land.



Shana Sprung, also of the women's squad, is a rehabilitative physiotherapist by profession. She believes that Israel will be able to achieve impressive achievements in the less popular sports – as it has already done with lacrosse.


LACROSSE, although a relatively unpopular sport worldwide, is one of if not the fastest growing sport in Israel. Players say it is popular not only due to the excitement of the game itself, but because it is a way to bridge the divide between Israel and other countries.

The 2019 Women’s European Lacrosse Championship took place in Israel last month. The Israeli women’s national team won a silver medal, coming in second place behind England.

It is possible that American football could be the next sport where the Israeli women and men can prove themselves and show their might.

“The opening of this event marks the beginning of a celebration of football, which I hope will inspire current players and add to the growing momentum behind the growth of flag football. To all the players, we congratulate you and wish you well here in Israel. Your individual skill is to be celebrated, but your success will be determined and defined by your team play,” IFAF president Richard Maclean said in a statement.

Major tournament sponsors include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Kraft Family, Ira and Yael Kleinman, and Simon and Jana Falic.

The local tournament sponsors include the Israel Sports Authority, the Ayelet Non-Olympic Sports Federation of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality.

Many of these organizations – notably Ayelet, which is the overseeing body for all non-Olympic sports in Israel – promote and develop the sport, and provide athletic scholarships, equipment and finance for competitions. They are also major sponsors of promoting lacrosse and less popular sports countrywide, such as American football. The tournament is being organized in cooperation between IFAF and AFI.

"It is a great honor to host the flag football European championships in Israel in general and particularly in Jerusalem. American football is growing in Europe. The same is true for Israel, and it a pleasure to see that more and more Israelis are exposed to the game and take part in the various leagues here in Israel," said Ayelet president Arik Kaplan.



Entry to all games is free of charge. Complete coverage of the playoff games will be broadcast live this Sunday on the ffecisrael2019 website.

Visit www.ffecisrael2019.com for an updated tournament schedule and additional information.


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