Milano Seamen HC Michael Wood and QB Luke Zahradka preview 2021 Italian Bowl

The reigning Italian champion Milano Seamen will square off July 17  against their arch rivals, the undefeated Parma Panthers.

While the Panthers have had a flawless, unbeaten season, the Seamen have not been their same dominant selves and fallen to Parma twice.

Still, head coach Michael Wood insists that those games are now behind them:

“The key factors in this game are the same for all games, mistakes, penalties, turnovers, and execution. Both teams come into this game with excellent personnel and it will be whichever team makes the most plays on Saturday night that will come out on top. The past season and games don’t mean a thing, it will all come down to 48 minutes of tough, hard-hitting football with a Championship on the line. The best team will get what they deserve like every final, one or two big plays will change the momentum and carry one team on to Victory. Thanks for this opportunity and I am proud of the ANCHORGANG. These guys have invested their time and souls to be in this position. Now let’s go out and have some fun!”

Milano’s season has also been fraught with operational and practical hardships playing in a COVID season. Their semifinal against the Lazio Ducks was rescheduled and then canceled due to an outbreak in the Ducks squad. But the Seamen, like most teams in Europe, have stayed resolute and patient as Wood explains:

“It has been a difficult year because of the unknown; is someone going to be out because of a positive test? Who is going to miss practice because of work? A lot of guys missed work over the past year and a half, so asking for time off from their jobs was not easy and the guys needed to work. This is still an amateur sport and with practice, meetings, travel, the sport takes up time. They still have families and other commitments besides playing football, so each guy has had to commit themselves to being part of the team and in turn the coaches and staff had to make considerations so that we could arrive at the end of the season. For me the biggest success is that we were able to persevere through all the obstacles and are playing in the final. I think the best two teams are in the final and it should be a great game, probably not decided until the last drive of the game.”

The Seamen are captained by Italian-American veteran quarterback Luke Zahradka who has been with the team since 2017. Zahradka now works full time in Milan and feels the pain of every other domestic player by “having to grind through a full day of work before practice”. But COVID has still changed football for the quarterback:

“The season so far is going well, it’s obviously more difficult now to organize. In the past, we used to have film before every practice. Now we didn’t have the place to do that. Also having COVID around some players may be missing games if they tested positive, we had one test positive before our first game. Luckily, we’ve been okay since then. I think having a full year off showed in the beginning of the season, but in the last couple of games we’ve been quite successful.

“The Lazio situation was frustrating; you’re all getting jacked up ready to play a game on Saturday, and then you get hit with a message right before you’re about to head to the field that the game got postponed because one guy tested positive. And when we found out we were gonna have to play on Tuesday. It was unfortunate knowing that you had to play this game before having to play in the final that Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to have to advance to a final without playing the semifinals. I think that every team deserves a chance to play in the semifinal. So I do feel bad that this happened to them and how it happened.”

But with the Italian Bowl fast approaching all eyes will now be on the Panthers:

“They have a good head coach. They have a good team. Good offense, good defense. Good coach. So do we. So we just have to execute our game plan. Limit our turnovers to zero ideally and just make as many plays as we can. Their playmakers are a big factor so if we can control the ball and possession and just keep our defense off the field so they can stay energized.

“Their biggest weapon is Simone Alinovi, he’s a beast. He’s a great player and a really good athlete, I’ve played with him on the National Team. I also think that they use their American Nick Diaco well in wildcat. So those two guys I think are very big playmakers I would say, defensively they have a lot of tough players that are aggressive and are experienced. Previously they were able to score in the last 30 seconds or so. In both games it came down to the wire and I think this weekend is going to be the same.”

Regardless of all the twists and turns that the Italian first division offered this year, all those who took part should be applauded for making it to the final. And if the previous two Seamen vs Panthers games are anything to go by this should shape up for another exciting Italian Bowl.

Watch the game live on PPV. Milano Seamen vs Parma Panthers, Saturday, July 17, 21″00 CET (9 pm, 3 pm ET).

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.