(photo credit: )
The national women's flag football team came up just short defending its Flag Oceane title over the weekend at Le Havre, France, while the men's team barely missed out on the semifinals in the highest bracket.
The Israeli women, who won the 2005 championship at Europe's largest and most prestigious flag football tournament, dominated their Canadian and French opposition by winning their six straight opening round games, played during a driving rainstorm on Sunday, with a combined score of 107-19.
The top seeds easily defeated fourth-place finisher Pygargues from Trois, France, 18-0, in the semifinals, but playing the final in front of approximately 1,000 largely hostile spectators, Israel stumbled against the Quebec Steelers, a team considered one of the finest in North America, falling 19-6.
The men's team started slowly, losing its first three games to three national champion clubs. The blue and white lost its first two games by the same score, 35-20, first to Mammoth of Denmark, and then to France's Pygargues. The defense continued to falter in the third match as Israel lost to Italy's Cleavers 47-36.
The defense finally began to jell in their fourth match, as Israel recorded its first victory in the competition, defeating Banditi Ferrara of Italy, 25-19. The Israelis then rolled to their second straight victory with a hard-fought win over the German champion Lizzards, 25-13.
Israel then faced Kircaldy Bulls, the Scotland national champions, with a chance to reach the semifinals. The blue-and-white came from behind to take the lead with two touchdowns in the last two minutes, but the Scots scored a touchdown on a disputed play in the waning seconds for a 35-34 victory.
Despite being disappointed by not reaching the semifinals, Israel defeated Banditi Ferrara 35-21 in the fifth place game, and finished the competition with a 3-4 record. The Cleavers took gold by defeating defending champion Pygargues 34-21 in the final.
AFI president Steve Leibowitz, who was called upon to serve as an international referee at the competition, said that he was proud of the performance of the national squads, but also disappointed with the results.
"The Israeli women put on an impressive performance," he said. "We dominated top-level opponents throughout the tournament, only to fall flat in the final."
Women's coach Yonah Mishaan was also less-thansatisfied with the second place finish. "On the one hand, we have taken our women's team to a new level of performance where we are now viewed as the favorite against top teams from Europe and North America," he said. "On the other hand, we are the team to beat, and the Canadian club managed to win the final even though we played the best football throughout the tournament."
Several of the players shed tears as the team sang Hatikva at the awards ceremony, in which they received their silver medals.
"There is a lot of work to do on the men's side," noted Leibowitz. "We have the talent in the AFI to compete with the best players in Europe. But football is about team work and we will have to work hard to build a team that will know how to play better together, especially on defense."
Leibowitz cited the leadership and play of quarterback Kenny Zwiebel and top receiver Naftali Schwartz.
Mishaan had a host of accolades for the play of the women's team. Offensive stars included quarterback Shana Sprung, receiver Ahuva Odenheimer, Estie Bernstein, Yael Freedman and Ayelet Wartelsky. The defense was anchored by Elissa Sagoskin, Emily Neilson, Sarit Bailey and Adina Brickman.
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