IFAF 2019 Women’s European Championships: Finland getting set to defend title

The Finnish ladies come into the IFAF 2019 Women’s European Championships being played at John Charles Stadium in Leeds, England, August 12-17,  as the reigning IFAF European Champions, after a dominant performance in the 2015 Championships, hosted in Granada, Spain.

At the time, Finland brushed aside all the competition, scoring 50+ points against all three of their opponents, including against Great Britain in the final – winning 50-12.

However, in the intervening years many teams have closed the gap on the Finns.

Sweden came oh so close to beating Finland in the last meeting between the two teams in 2018, coming up a single point shy with a 21-20 defeat, and previously in the 2017 World Championships Great Britain actually got the better of the European Champions, 27-21, in the opening game of the event.

Team Finland head coach Mika Eloranta shared his thoughts on Finland’s chances of defending their 2015 title.

The championships will be attended by reigning European champions, Finland, host country Great Britain, as well as contenders Austria and Sweden.

The teams are coming into the tournament seeded, based on previous performances. Following an impressive outing at the 2017 World Championship, hosts Great Britain are currently seeded 1st, followed by defending champions Finland. Austria are third seeds, with Sweden coming in as the lowest seed, but having proved themselves a dangerous opponent.

Initially, Spain and Russia were coming to the races, but the absence of these teams does not, according to Eloranta:

“That said, the absence of Spain and Russia is unlikely to change the order of the medal teams. In my opinion, the Russian national team is strongly built around the Valkyries in the Women’s Maple League, and I do not yet believe in the Spanish level enough to compete for medals.”

One major change, however, with a four-team tournament will be a switch away from groups, to a round-robin format tournament, where each country plays each other once.

Coach Eloranta himself is a member of the SAJL Hall of Fame and lifted a European Championship of his own, as a player, back in 1995.

On Monday, August 12, Finland will face Austria in the opening match of the tournament. Finland has previously faced Austria in both the 2010 World Championships and the 2015 European Championships and has comfortably won both times.

“Though their Men’s, Under 19’s and Flag rosters have found huge success recently, in the Women’s game Austria are not yet seen as one of the favorites to contest the title, and so this represents a good first opponent for us. There are only a handful of teams established so far in Austria, which naturally limits the number of players available to the Austrian national team.

However, in the wider Austrian football scene the level of knowledge and resources of the Federation are impressive, so the team should not be underestimated. The team had a small number of players in the 2015 Spanish European Championships, but still finished fourth in the tournament.”

In the second round on Wednesday, August 14, Finland will meet Sweden. Since 2008, the strengths of these two teams that have met each year have been steadily coming closer together, although Finland has won all the matches.

Eloranta:

“Last year’s Finland-Sweden match showed that the Swedish women’s game is rapidly improving. In the autumn national game, Sweden saw a new, talented quarterback, who was happy to air the ball out, and so they have proven themselves very capable of putting up points.”

On the last day of action, 17 August, the two favorites for the title, Finland and Great Britain, will meet. T

Coach Eloranta noted the Brits are definitely a key opponent, especially due to having the benefits of having a home crowd at their backs:

“The British have home-field advantage and are able to prepare for the tournament in familiar landscapes. The team has speed on both offense and defense, so it’s always going to be a tough team to fully contain. In the previous encounter at the World Cup, I felt like we dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but we need to improve on stopping their big, breakout plays. It we can do that, we are in a good position.”

AFI
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