The Israeli national tackle football team will play its first international competitive game next week when it faces Spain in Madrid.
As a new entry, the team must earn its way into Group B in the European section of the International Federation of American Football with a victory over Spain. The game will kick off at noon on Sunday in Madrid’s Ciudad Deportiva Prado Stadium.
Forty players and 14 coaches and support staff will make the trip to Spain, after nine months of intensive training. Yonah Mishaan is the coach of the national team which is drawn from the best players in Israel’s nine-team Kraft Family Israel Football League.
After years of coaching the Women’s national flag football team and Big Blue in the Kraft Family IFL, Mishaan is optimistic about the team’s chances.
“We’ve watched whatever video is available on the Spanish team. They have been playing internationally for a number of years, but we are as big and as strong as they are and I believe we have players on a high enough level, and it will come down to heart,” said Mishaan.
If Team Israel manages to beat Spain, it will qualify to play next year against six other countries that make the cut. Israel would then play a series of home and away games, with the group leader advancing to Europe’s Group A, which includes the strongest teams in the continent.
The president of American Football in Israel, the sport’s governing body in the country, is Steve Leibowitz.
“We are in our infancy in competitive tackle football,” Leibowitz said. “Our league has only been in existence for eight years and we have a long way to go but are experienced enough to begin that journey.”
In June, Israeli football sponsor and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft viewed an Israeli team practice and told the players, “Do your jobs and the success will come. Some day I hope to welcome the first Israeli player in the NFL.”
Sponsors of the Israeli team include Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf and New York businessman Henry Swieca.
Key players on the team include three-time IFL MVP Dani Eastman, of the Judean Rebels who will play at free safety, outside linebacker and return punts and kickoffs. Other defensive standouts are middle linebacker Asaf Katz of the Tel Aviv Pioneers and Beersheva lineman Sandro Kalandadze.
Yuval Fenta, who was the MVP of the Kraft Family High School IFL, is the top running back. Two talented quarterbacks share the throwing duties. Matt Kaufman from the Haifa Underdogs and recent arrival Alex Swieca, who spent the last three seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, have several talented receivers, led by Pioneers Jonathan Curran.
The offensive line is anchored by the Rebels Yaniv Kovalski. Professional soccer goalie Gal Massika brings the team a strong kicking game.