Italy earns hard fought victory over Great Britain in IFAF European Qualifiers

On Sunday, Italy beat team Great Britain (GB) 28-23 to secure their place in the International Federation of American Football European Championship semifinal next year against Austria.

As defending champions and with homefield advantage, the Italians entered the game as heavy favorites. Nevertheless, Great Britain, a team that has not played a game in three years, put up a valiant fight.

GB’s Dwayne Obi was first on the scoreboard, running through arm-tackles and even hurdling a defender as he rumbled into the endzone for a 15-yard touchdown to give the visitors a 7-0 lead early on.

The ease at which Great Britain was able to score seemed to shock life into Italy as they then proceeded to craft their own touchdown drive, leaning heavily on wideout Jared Gerbino who caught screen after screen, dicing up the GB defense. Running back Mike Gentili then scored to tie the game at 7-7.

Again, GB fired straight back with their own touchdown. Quarterback Josh Allsebrook found his rhythm and led the team on a 67-yard drive which ended with another thumping run from Obi to take the Brits up 14-7.

Italian signal caller Luke Zahradka then went 65 yards through the air on just three plays, all going for 20+ yards. A 24-yard touchdown pass to Tamsir Seck tied the game up.

A muffed punt by the Italians a couple of drives later led to a safety and two points for GB giving them the lead again, 16-14. But Italy again managed to get another seven on board before the half by way of another bomb across the middle to Seck.

The Italians went in at the half with a fragile 21-16 lead.

As exciting as the first two quarters had been, the third offered very little for fans, outside of some competent defense. The two sides traded blows, but little came of it as long drives resulted in missed field goals or punts.

It wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter that Italy managed to get things going again on a drive that was sparked by a 25-yard reception across the middle by European football veteran Gentili. The drive was capped by a three-yard touchdown reception from Gerbino to give the Italians a 28-16 lead with only 3:18 left on the clock.

Allsebrook answered, orchestrating a last-ditch attempt, driving his team down the field with some plucky play and superb contested catches from his wideouts. But a failed onside kick in the closing minute of the game meant that all Italy had to do was take consecutive knees to end the game 28-23.

Allsebrook showed that despite little to no European experience, he can compete on the international stage. He ended the day with 230 yards and a touchdown, but it was his composure that stood out on the day.

However, one thing the Brits did get a taste of was the ability that Zahradka has to score at will. He threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns in a performance that, for him, was not spectacular compared to some of the numbers he was able to put up this year with the Milano Seamen in Italy’s domestic league.

With the win, the Italians have has again established themselves as favorites. Still, in the semifinal, they will have to contend with an Austrian team bent on revenge. Italy defeated Austria en route to the 2021 title game.

Team Great Britain presented themselves admirably in their return to international football and should leave with their heads held high. They will however need to find a way to score more points if they hope to compete with the top dogs in Europe.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.