2023 IFAF European Men’s Championship: Italy defeats Sweden to capture bronze

Team Italy set the tone early this past weekend in the 2023 IFAF Men’s European Championship bronze medal game against Sweden taking a 16-0 halftime lead and then going on to defeat the host Swedes 26-7 in a game played in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Italy had beaten Team Sweden to win the gold medal in the 2021 IFAF European Championship.

Italy’s quarterback Luke Zahradka, who was named Offensive MVP of the game, completed 19 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns with his favorite target being Simone Alinovi who had six catches for 100 yards and a score. Simone Boni hauled in four passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Mike Gentili was held to 17 yards rushing on 10 carries.

Team Italy QB Luke Zahradka gets off pass as he is being tackled Photo: Stefan Akander

For Sweden, Viktor Wessberg only completed nine passes for 121 yards and one touchdown and was picked off twice. Wide receiver Anton Jallai had three receptions for 52 yards while Johan Hellgren caught two passes for 39 yards and Sweden’s only touchdown. Running back Oliver Lundberg carried the ball 10 times for 43 yards to lead all rushers.

Team Italy struck first on the second drive of the game as Zahradka marched his team on an eight play, 83 yard drive and then on a fourth and ten from the Swedish 40 yard line connected with streaking wide receiver Simone Boni down the sideline for a touchdown. Alberto Barbaro kicked the PAT giving the Italians a 7-0 lead midway through the first period.

Sweden caught a break two possessions later as Lundberg returned a punt that took him back to his own 25 yard line and dodged and weaved his way all the way back to the Italian 33 yard line. In excellent field position. Unfortunately, six plays later, a Swedish field goal attempt from the 11 yard line, sailed wide left.

Photo: Stefan Akander

Italy responded as Zahradka hit Alinovi for a 31 yard gain up to Sweden’s 49 yard line and then found Boni for a 46 yard completion down to the three yard line. Although the Swedish defense stiffened, Barbaro kicked a 22 yard field goal to increase the lead to 10-0 with just over eight minutes left in the first half.

Three minutes later, the Italian defense made a play as defensive back Giovanni Caccialupi picked off an errant Wessberg pass at Italy’s 44 yard lne. Zahradka took advantage, orchestrating a seven play, 56 yard drive, capping it with a 21 yard touchdown strike to Alinovi and the visitors went into the break with a 16-0 lead.

The Swedish offense continued to sputter to open the second half and the Italians capitalized moving down to the Swedish 31 yard line in eight plays.  Boni caught his second touchdown pass of the game, and Italy boosted the lead to 23-0 with five minutes remaining in the third.

With a minute left in the third quarter, Italy took over again after a Swedish drive stalled at the 46 yard line. Zahradka maneuvered his team down to the Swedish one yard line and although running back Stefano Chiappini was stuffed twice on the goalline, Barbaro kicked a field goal to up the lead to 26-0. More importantly, the Italian offense ate up almost six minutes so with only five minutes to go, Sweden took over again.

Team Sweden RB Oliver Lundberg #25 Photo: Stefan Akander

Wessberg wasted no time though, and aided by two 15 yard penalties, moved his team down to Italy’s 24 yard line in four plays. He then found Hallgren for a touchdown to narrow the lead to 26-7 with five minutes left on the clock.

Sweden’s fired up defense held the Italians to just six yards and the Swedish offense took the ball back over at their own 29 after a punt with four minutes left. Wessberg then took his team on a 14 play, 68 yard drive down to the Italian three yard line with a minute left. But a fourth down pass to Jallai was picked off in the end zone by Italian defensive back Andrea Fantin giving Italy the ball back with 53 seconds remaining.

Zahradka kneeled out the game and Italy began celebrating after taking home the bronze medal.

Luke Zahradka was named Offensive MVP of the game while Team Sweden linebacker Myren Ludvig earned defensive MVP honors.

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