Israel’s national American Football Team won its first official international game with a 28-20 win over host Spain on Sunday.
With Israeli’s victory, the team coached by Yonah Mishaan advanced its bid to qualify for the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament in 2016. Israel will play a series of home and away games in Group B next year.
The highlights of Sunday’s game included the play of the entire defense, which stopped Spain from scoring numerous times in the red zone. Overall, it was a defensive game that turned on big plays.
When the players arrived to the field, they were met with graffiti saying “Palestina” and four spectators held a Palestinian flag for entire game.
But the team felt supported and welcomed. The fans in the stands were respectful “to a remarkable degree,” noted one player. They stood for “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem, with their hands over their hearts. They gave the Israeli team standing ovations.
Players felt that the estimated 3,000 fans showed pure respect to the Israeli team. And the Spanish players, according to one player, were “kind, pleasant, and professional.”
The most notable highlight of the game was the sportsmanship of the two teams, and the fans who came to cheer them on. Both teams were well-coached, and it showed on the field.
Dani Eastman, a member of the Judean Rebels and a three-time MVP of the Israel Football League, was responsible for many of the game’s highlight moments. Eastman threw a 60-yard touchdown pass; returned a kickoff for 90 yards for a touchdown; and late in the game, intercepted a pass and returned it for the game-winning touchdown.
Among the Israeli players contributing to the team’s success were: Jonathan Curran with multiple catches and runs; Gideon Reiz with several receptions; Yuval Fenta, making an impressive showing from the Kfar Saba Hawks high school team; Ariel Back; Jeremiah Jelski; Ayal Frankfurter; Uria Loberbom; and newcomer Alex Swieca, who left the University of Michigan Wolverines this year to join the Israeli players. All of these players had multiple sacks and tackles for losses.
With the help of New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, American Football has gotten a big push in Israel. In June, Kraft brought a high-profile group of NFL players to Israel to help promote the game. He viewed an Israel team practice and addressed the players.