Team Belgium HC Spencer Wood discusses European qualifier against Israel

The Belgian Barbarians, national team of Belgium, head to Israel to face Team Israel, Sunday, October 6 in the opening round of the 2020 IFAF European Championship qualification round in Group B.

The Israelis’s defeated Turkey last month, beating them 27-22 in TurkeyTeam Belgium lost to Ireland in an international friendly in September.

Since 2014, the Barbarians have had one of the most crowded schedules of any national team in Europe playing between two and four games a year. Late last year, Belgium earned a historic win when they defeated Team Holland for the first time ever, beating them 14-7.  Belgium had dropped a 20-19 decision to a surprisingly tough Team Ireland squad. The Belgians played two international exhibition games in 2017 defeating Team Spain 18-16 in a controversial thriller, and then downing the Russian national team 7-2 in a tight defensive battle. They beat both Spain and Hungary in 2016 and in 2015, they played four games including a tough loss to Holland in a European qualifier in front of almost 5,000 roaring Dutch fans. 

Barbarians head coach Spencer Wood, who is in his second year with the team, offers his views on preparations for the game and the outlook for Team Belgium.

AFI: You are headed to play Israel after suffering a tough loss to Ireland. How much did that game help you in your preparations?

Wood: The Ireland game was exactly what we wanted it to be, from the standpoint that it was an opportunity to try some new things and get some experience for our newer/younger players to prepare us for our two qualifier games against Israel and Hungary. Of course coming away with a loss is never the goal, but we learned what we wanted to learn and we are now better because of that game.

AFI: You’re playing an Israeli team that surprised Turkey and will be brimming with confidence playing at home. Does that concern you?

Wood: Israel is a good football team, and I’m glad we are playing them at their place coming off a big road win for them. So it’s not concerning as much as it is motivating for us. We want to play great competition and we think Israel definitely provides that.

AFI: You may be one of the most active national teams in Europe. Has that helped you solidify your roster?

Wood: We are definitely the most active national team in Europe in terms of most games played in the past several years. That’s part of our mission. To seek new playing opportunities for our guys prepares them better than any practice would. I think most people in Europe know by now that we will play anyone, anywhere. Just contact us.

AFI: How much do you know about Team Israel?

Wood: The game against Turkey is probably the only real source of quality information for us. We know they have some great athletes down there that are accustomed to playing in a warm weather climate. We are expecting an athletic and well-coached team.

AFI: You had some success throwing the ball against Ireland but just not finding the end zone. Will you change your offense much?

Wood: We rotated quarterbacks every drive against Ireland so we could get both guys plenty of reps. Our longtime starting quarterback Tomasz Firszt is out against Israel, so Willem Vancompernolle will make his first career start for us. So much about quarterback play is getting into a rhythm so we know with Willem back there full-time we will have some opportunities for consistency.

AFI: You have an experienced coaching staff. How much of a difference does that make, especially on the road?

Wood: Having a guy like Joe Sturdivant, who is one of the top defensive minds in Europe, as our defensive coordinator has had a huge impact on our players and staff. His experience, along with others, is crucial for a game like this. This trip is so unique in many ways so there will be a lot of firsts for us but we are prepared and ready to go.

AFI: Anything else you might like to add?

Wood: We are just tremendously excited for the opportunity we have to travel to the Holy City to play Team Israel. Growing up in the States, I never thought American football would one day take me to Jerusalem but here we are. It’s such a beautifully intense sport and we are so fired up to represent Belgium on the international stage.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.