Israel's Flag Football Team Heads to Championship Games in Denmark With High Hopes

After finishing fourth in both the men and women's tournaments at the at the last championships, Israel's team thinks it can end up on the podium this year

Israel Bowl MVP Dani Eastman running with the ball at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem in February
Israel Bowl MVP Dani Eastman running with the ball at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem in February Rick Blumsack

Israel’s flag football teams are eying the podium at this weekend's 2017 European Flag Football Championships in Copenhagen.

At the last championship games in Spain two years ago, Israel left without a medal after finishing fourth in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. The Israeli women's team has earned one silver medal and two bronze medals in Europe, but a top three finish has eluded them in the last two championships. The Israeli men's team has yet to finish on the podium.

Both teams appear to be on an upward trajectory after the women finished 7th and the men 8th at last year’s world championship in Miami. The head coaches for both teams were replaced after the Miami tournament and this will the first international games for men’s coach Akiva Rindenow and women’s coach Elissa Sagoskin.

The men are a young team with a new quarterback, but they include one-time World Championship MVP Dani Eastman and veterans David Abelle, Binyamin Schultz and Bibi Goodman. Jonathan Curran and QB Avrami Farkas lead a talented group of newcomers. The men will not have an easy path to the podium and will have to face the host team and defending European champion Denmark in the opening round.

The women have a new look with longtime defense stalwart Esti Bernstein taking over as QB from Shana Sprung. Sprung is considered among the top quarterbacks in the world, and this is the first championship she will miss since the team was founded 14 years ago. One-time World Championship MVP Yael Freedman will lead a talented club that includes returning stars Jessica Sagoskin and Rachel Shmidman. Denmark, Great Britain and Sweden are Israel’s main competition in their battle to return to the podium.

The European Championship is being hosted at the impressive Valby Stadium in Copenhagen, which has a capacity of 12,000. The championship round will be played on September 3 and the top finishers in this year's European Championship will qualify for next year’s World Championship, which will be played in Panama.

The women’s squad is sponsored by the family of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, which has backed the team since its founding in 2003. The men’s team is once again sponsored by New York businessman Ira Kleinman.

The Israeli national teams are organized by American Football in Israel, the sport's governing body in Israel, which has about 2,000 players participating in official flag and tackle football leagues.