Israel women's team triumphs at flag football tourney in France

Israel sent two teams to Le Havre, France, for Flag Oceane 2008, the largest annual flag football tournament in Europe, last weekend. Both returned home with their heads held high. The Israeli women's national team captured its second-straight international tournament win by dismantling Canada and Germany in the semis and finals by the scores of 28-6 and 22-13, respectively. Following its victory at the 2007 Big Bowl in Germany, this win sends a strong message to the rest of the world that the Israeli women, coached by Yonah Mishaan, is truly a force to be reckoned with heading into the next month's world championships in Quebec, Canada later this year. The Jerusalem Wolves, making their first appearance in international competition and led by coach Yossi Fuchs, also turned heads at the tournament, making the semifinals and coming tantalizingly close to setting up a dream showdown in the final against their Israeli sisters. Leading 12-6 in the final minute of its semi against Germany the Wolves saw the Germans even it up on a controversial play and eventually take the ever-so-tightly fought affair after five nail-biting overtimes. In the semis, pitted against Canada, the national team players really hit their stride. Led by QB Shana Sprung and a resurgent Ahuva Oddenheimer on offense, they thrashed the Canadians by 22 points and catapulted into the playoffs with gusto. Mishaan and his girls stayed focused on the task at hand and convincingly set the stage for a final match-up against Germany. The Germans, fresh off a bruising battle against the Wolves in which they overcame spectacular efforts in a losing cause from Ariella Augenbraun and Penina Rappaport on both sides of the ball, were hoping to knock off an Israeli team for a second consecutive game to capture the gold. The Israeli women's national team, however, had other ideas and put on a clinic before a frenzied crowd of 300, coasting to a relatively easy victory for the title. National rookie Ayelet Hecht was outstanding in a non-starting role, making big plays seemingly every single time she stepped onto the field. With the offense clicking on all cylinders and the defense anchored by stalwarts Estie "Baseball" Bernstein and Yael Friedman, Germany was helpless in the face of the Israeli attack and was forced to settle for second place. Following the medal ceremony Mishaan explained just what the victory meant to his squad. "This is the perfect tune-up for the World Championships. We have proven to everyone that we have what it takes to not only play with, but beat, the best. We got our couple of rusty games under our belt and came out stronger for it. I am so proud of each and every one of the girls, on both teams, for having played their hearts out." The world championships, which are sponsored by the NFL-recognized IFAF, are to be held July 24-28 in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Israel is one of seven countries to qualify for the women's world championship in Quebec. The other countries competing for the title will be the USA, Canada, Mexico, Austria, France and Japan. The Israel national men's team, also participating in Canada, will be one of 13 squads at the championships, in addition to Germany, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Canada, USA, Thailand, France, Mexico and Korea.