Denmark, Spain capture flag football European golds

Upsets galore as favored blue-and-white men and women fall short of podium at home, six different countries claim medals.

European Flag Football Tournament in Jerusalem
The ninth Flag Football European Championship wrapped up on Sunday with plenty of surprises, and disappointing finishes for the host Israeli men’s and women’s national teams.
After two days of pool play heading into the weekend at Jerusalem’s Kraft Family Sports Campus, Israel’s men were 4-1 and atop Pool A, while the blue-and-white women sat at 3-1 in Pool B, trailing Denmark (4-0). Austria (5-0) topped the women’s Pool A and together with Danes earned a bye to the semifinals, with Israel, Great Britain (4-1), Spain (3-2) and France (2-2) qualifying for the quarterfinals.
On the men’s side, Israel and Denmark (5-0) advanced directly to the semis, while Austria (3-1), France (3-2), Great Britain (3-2) and Italy (3-2) battling in the quarters.
Sunday started off with the Israeli women’s team playing Spain. In a hard-fought defensive duel, Spain proved victorious in defeating the favored Israelis 20-12. The game was plagued by many missed opportunities and penalties on the Israeli side that allowed the Spaniards to prevail.
A simultaneous women’s quarterfinal took place, with Great Britain downing France 28-13 to power into the medal rounds. After a second display of might against defending-champion Austria in the semis, Great Britain leaped into the final with a 38-25 victory.
After defeating Israel, the Spanish women went on to also upset Denmark 19-18 to set up an unlikely gold-medal matchup against the Brits. Spain conquered Great Britain 28-14 for their first-ever gold, while Austria came out on top of Denmark 34-19 to take bronze.
The Israeli women, who were strong medal contenders coming into the tournament, had to settle for sixth place after falling 27-18 to France in the placement match.
On the men’s side, powerhouse Austria was pitted against an unproven Italian side in the Pool A quarterfinals. In the biggest surprise of the tournament, the Italian team claimed a 40-22 triumph after a few early Austrian miscues put them behind the eight-ball and they couldn’t recover. France claimed a tight 38-33 conquest of Great Britain to round out the final-four,
The upstart Italians took on Israel in the semifinals, with the blue-and-white coming up just short in front of their home-town fans in a 56-55 absolute slug-fest that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
The other men’s semifinal featured a clash between five-time champion Denmark and France, with the Danes claiming a 46-39 win to earn a date with Italy for the championship.
The Italian luck and rhythm finally ran out in the final and the Danes did not disappoint, rolling to a 52-35 victory for their sixth straight gold medal.
Israel and France faced off in the bronze medal matchup, with French prevailing 56-49 in another barn-burner – leaving the Israelis with a fourth-place finish.
There was some consolation for the Israeli team as Dani Eastman was named men’s tournament MVP.  On the women’s side, the award went to Great Britain’s Marta Mathews.
Overall, the three-day event was a smashing success, with the sparkling one-year-old Kraft Family Sports Campus emerging as the true star. While 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 – and had high hopes for a podium finish, the competition was fierce and showcased the best that Europe has to offer in the fast-rising sport of flag football.
“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 vice president and the long-time women’s coach.
The major tournament sponsors were New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Kraft family, Ira and Yael Kleinman and Simon and Jana Falic. Local sponsors included the Israel Sports Authority, the Ayelet Federation and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Many of these organizations – notably Ayelet, the overseeing body for all non-Olympic sports in Israel – promote and develop sports and provide athletic scholarships, equipment and finance for competitions. The tournament, which featured 10 men’s teams and 11 women’s teams, was organized in cooperation between the International Federation of American Football and American Football in Israel.
The final rankings shaped up as follows: Men – Denmark, Italy, France, Israel, Austria, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden; Women – Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland.
“It is a great honor to host the flag football European championships in Israel in general and particularly in Jerusalem,” said Ayelet President Arik Kaplan. “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.”