Flag Football: Israel's women bring home the hardware
Men's squad victimized by horrendous officiating, sent packing in Big Bowl semifinals.
By URIEL STURM
The Israeli women's national team travelled to Germany last week with one goal in mind. After rolling over the competition with six straight victories en route to a third Big Bowl championship, it would be difficult to call the trip anything but a complete success.
The playing of Hatikva during the title presentation was an emotionally fitting conclusion to an action-packed weekend of football that put the rest of the European nations on notice that Israel will be a force to be reckoned with at September's Euro Championships in Belfast, Ireland.
The Israeli men were also among the premier groups of players at the 23-club tournament an hour outside of Frankfurt, coasting through the preliminary round with a 4-1 record and two lopsided shutout victories to begin the knock-out stage.
However, they suffered a controversy-marred semifinal loss to the host Waldorff Wanderers, in a display of officiating that would make even Ed Hochuli cringe, and were forced to settle for fourth place.
Yonah Mishaan's fearsome squad of females made sure that the refs would not be able rain on its parade, turning on the jets from the get-go and not letting up an inch.
After beginning play with their closest victory of the tournament, a 19-18 nail-biter over a German team, the Israeli women were able to make adjustments on defense and hold their remaining five opponents to just 7.2 points a game.
Standout offensive performances from just about everyone on the roster allowed Mishaan and assistant coach Jessica Sagoskin to spread the wealth and open up the playbook to give a number of national team newcomers opportunities to get some much-needed international game experience.
The mental strength of the Israeli girls - who are backed by the ever-benevolent Kraft Family - was at an all-time high and the intensity they displayed from the opening kickoff onwards was truly a site to behold. Triumphs over another German all-star club, the Austrians, the Danish and the Swiss set up a rematch in the finals between Israel and the team it beat by just a lone point in its opener.
In perhaps the team's most complete performance in the last three years, Israel totally dominated the Germans 26-6 in the title game behind a full-throttle precision offense and a smashmouth blanket defense.
The highlight of the entire tournament was an Elissa Sagoskin full-length diving interception in the final that, as much as than anything, typified the supreme determination and desire that characterized the play of each of the women on the Israeli squad.
"There was no way to give a team MVP award to any one of the girls, with how well they all played", explained a happy but measured Mishaan.
"There were so many positives to take from this tournament, from the physical and mental stamina we maintained to the combination of speed and perfect execution working in tandem. It was a very good stepping stone, but our real mission is Belfast. We must have a good showing at the European Championships to validate out title here. Until then, we can only look at it as a tune-up."
Among numerous other gaffes by the referees throughout the fateful men's semifinal contest, two plays in particular in the last minute called into question the legitimacy, competency and even partiality of the game-crew and stole the win out of Israel's hands.
After the home-side Wanderers ran a play resulting in what turned out to be the game-winning, lead-swinging touchdown before the start-whistle was blown - a should-be infraction that was somehow overlooked - the judges blew a clear-cut, plain-as-day pass interference call when Israel's Akiva Rindenow was assaulted in the endzone before the ball reached him - a penalty that should have resulted in an automatic TD and an Israeli victory.
After the match, people ranging from impartial bystanders who had witnessed the outrageous final minutes, to parents of the German side's players, and even the Waldorff team members themselves came over to Zwiebel and Rindenow to tell them that they had been robbed of a victory and that Israel deserved to play for the title.
Nonetheless, the tournament was a momentum boost for the new-and-improved Hart Hasten-sponsored men's national team, as it was a great forum to showcase the program's new emphasis on youth and speed, both of which were strong points throughout the event.
"This team played its hearts out and we really felt that we deserved to play in the championship game," exclaimed Zweibel, who was his usual sublime self as field general. "Our offense demonstrated it can compete with the best in the world and the defense took a massive step forward under the tutelage and guidance of D-Coordinator Yossi Fuchs. We are just getting going in our drive for success at the international level."
"I gotta tell you though, hearing that song [Hatikva] being sung on German soil after the girls won their title, now that was a sweet moment both teams and I will never forget. The goosbumps were out in full force for that one."
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