The Israeli men's and women's national flag
football teams head to Belfast, Northern Ireland, this week with a
realistic chance of bringing home European Championship medals.
local clubs are highly rated heading into the
internationally-recognized European Federation of American Football
(EFAF) event. In June, the Israeli women established themselves as
contenders after finishing first at the Big Bowl in Waldorf, Germany
At the same tournament, the largest of its kind in Europe, the men
finished 4th out of 26 teams, and if not for questionable refereeing,
could have easily been in the medals.
The three-day Euro Championships kick off on Friday, with the
medal round played on Sunday. It's a very tough draw for the Israeli
women, who face Sweden, France, Germany, Finland
and Austria. At last
year's World Championships in Canada, Israel
lost to France and
defeated Austria as they finished 5th out of seven teams. Israel has
never defeated the French or Finnish national teams, but has bettered
Sweden, Germany and Austria.
Coach Yonah Mishaan is upbeat about the team's chances to finish in the top three.
have the talent and the conditioning to compete on the very highest
European level," said Mishaan, adding, "The speed of the French and the
athleticism of the Finns will be a challenge."
The women's squad is led by quarterback Shana Sprung and halfback Yael Freedman.
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Israeli men's program has been a rebuilding project of sorts for
captain and quarterback Kenny Zwiebel. Most of the players are young,
so they are sure to have fresh legs.
The men will meet France, Italy, Switzerland
and Austria in the
group stage. They have also never beaten the French, and lost to Italy
at last year's worlds. The Swiss and Austrian teams are less
experienced and should prove less of a challenge.
The men's tournament favorite is Denmark
who is ranked 2nd in
the world, behind Canada. Leading players for Israel, who is coached on
the defensive side by innovative tactician Yossi Fuchs, include
veterans Akiva Rindenow, Dvir Weinberg and Joey Cohen.
AFI president Steve Leibowitz and injured national team player Ahuva Odenheimer will attend the tournament as referees.
As usual, the sponsor of the women's team is Myra Kraft, the
wife of New England Patriots
owner Robert Kraft
. The men's team
sponsors are businessmen/philanthropists Hart Hasten and Guma Aguiar,
also hailed recently as the "savior" of local sports institutions Betar
Jerusalem, in soccer, and Hapoel Jerusalem, on the basketball court.
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