Israelis vie for medals at flag football championships; National tackle team loses to Italy

The Israeli men are currently slated to play in Group B in a 16-team tournament.

Yael Freedman will try to help the Israeli men’s and women’s national flag football teams reach the podium at the world championships in Miami this week. (photo credit: AMERICAN FOOTBALL IN ISRAEL/COURTESY)
Yael Freedman will try to help the Israeli men’s and women’s national flag football teams reach the podium at the world championships in Miami this week.
The Israeli men’s and women’s National flag football teams have high hopes for the world championship that will be played from September 8-11 in Miami, Florida.
The Israeli men finished in sixth place and the women in ninth place in the 2014 world championships that were played in Grosseto, Italy. Each Israeli team finished in fourth place in last year’s European championships in 2015 which took place in Madrid.
The originally planned Bahamas venue for the worlds was deemed unsuitable by the International Federation of Flag Football. IFAF announced that the new location for the tournament will be in the Miami area, but the exact venue has yet to be announced.
The schedule will undergo some rebooting after the move to Miami and it is not certain if all 28 teams that registered will still be attending.
The Israeli men are currently slated to play in Group B in a 16-team tournament. That would mean seven games in the opening round with the top four finishers advancing to the quarterfinals.
The top team in Israel’s group is Team USA, which is the reigning world champion and which defeated Team Israel in the quarterfinals of the 2014 tournament.
The other top teams in the Israeli group are Austria (which is ranked eighth in the world and second in Europe), Germany (third in Europe) and Panama (No. 7 in the world).
Other teams in Group B include Japan and New Zealand.
Top teams in Group A include Mexico (No. 2 in the world), Canada (world No. 4), Denmark (No. 1 in Europe, No. 5 in the world) and Italy (world No. 3). The lower-ranking teams in Group A are Great Britain, Guatemala, South Korea and Kuwait.
The Israeli women are slated to play in Group A in the 12-team tournament.
There are six teams in Israel’s group and the blue-and-white women must finish among the top four in order to advance to the quarterfinals.
The top teams in the group are Austria, which is ranked third in the world and first in Europe and Mexico, which is No. 4 in the world.
Israel must also face Denmark and a team from “the Americas,” which will be the second-place finisher in a mini-event involving Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama.
The teams in Group B include world No. 1 Canada, Team USA (ranked second in the world), Germany (world No. 5), Japan and the winner of “the Americas” mini-tournament.
AFI President Steve Leibowitz said that the late move in venue is causing major logistics problems from teams around the world, but for Israel there is a bright side.
“Israel has a lot of friends in Miami and we are hopeful that some fans will come out to cheer us on.”
Regarding chances to win its first world championship medal Leibowitz said: “The men and women have the talent to be on the podium.
It’s just a question of whether we have the mental and physical toughness.”
Israel has some of the best flag football players in the world. At the 2014 world championships, Dani Eastman was chosen MVP of the men’s tournament and Yael Freedman was MVP of the women’s tournament.
Quarterback Shana Sprung was MVP of the 2015 European championships.
The women are coached by Yonah Mishaan and the men’s team is coached by Yossi Fuchs.
The Israeli women are sponsored by the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The men are sponsored by New York businessman Ira Kleinman. New York-based attorney Michael Sage is sponsoring kosher food for both teams.
National tackle team loses to Italy
The Israel national tackle football team traveled to Lignano, Italy, this weekend to compete in a four-team European championships qualifying tournament.
Forty-five players, and 18 coaches, trainers and Federation officials took the trip.
Playing in only its second game in international competition, the Israeli team lost to Italy 40-10 on Friday. The game was the opener of the European Championship Qualifying tournament, and on Sunday Israel will play the loser of tonight’s game between Serbia and Switzerland.
The tournament winner with face either Denmark or Sweden next year, and the victor in that game will qualify for the European Championship in 2018 along with the best six teams on the continent including Germany, Austria, France and Finland which have already qualified.
Israel is new to international tackle football. The journey started last year when Team Israel traveled to Madrid and defeated Spain 28-20 to reach the EC Qualifying Tournament.
Playing two games in three days is a challenge for any football team and a full 45-man roster was required.
Israel Football Federation President Steve Leibowitz said that the organization and financing of such a large team was a daunting task.
“To my knowledge this is by far the largest Israeli team ever sent abroad in any sport.”
The diverse team – including many Israeli born players alongside American immigrants – is made up of players competing in the eight-team Kraft Family Israel Football League.
The team’s head coach is Yonah Mishaan who was a standout player and coach in the IFL. US coach Eric Cohu is assisting Mishaan and brings years of coaching experience from the United States.
Still, the challenge is formidable.
“We have only 10 years of experience in tackle football, and only one international game under our belts and we are playing much more experienced teams which larger and stronger leagues to draw players from,” said Mishaan. Undaunted by the challenge, the coach added, “We have very talented and hard-working players and we are going to Italy determined to win.”