The Flag Football European Championships 2023 are history. 19 men's teams and 13 women's teams competed for the coveted titles during three intense days in Limerick, Ireland. As expected, it was a tremendously exciting tournament with no clear favorites. In the end, two teams who had never won a gold medal before, stood at the top.
In the men's event, for the first time since 2007 (!) Denmark did ot win the gold medal. Germany took the title after a terrific performance on all three days. They managed to be the only team to finish the tournament undefeated. In all three knockout games on Sunday, they set the tone from the start and got a lead that they never surrendered. Austria won the silver medal, just like in 2011 and 2015, and showed once again that it has been one of the top nations for two decades. Bronze surprisingly went to Israel, who beat defending champion Denmark in the game for third place. Behind them came Great Britain and France, who both lost by just one point in the quarterfinals.
Also claiming their first European title were the British women after beating the defending champion Spain in the final. Germany captured third place and thus won a medal in the women's event as well. Austria played a good preliminary round, but narrowly lost in the quarterfinals and ultimately finished fifth.
So much for the results, but who are the winners and losers of the European Championships?
For the first time at a European Championship, Germany is the most successful nation. After many years in which things did not go smoothly, this year everything finally fell into place. The German team had already shown potential at the 2022 World Games, but was unable to finish the tournament due to several covid infections. The women's team took home the bronze medal for the second time since 2015, allowing them to celebrate their success with their male counterparts.
In my power ranking I already reported that Great Britain have never gone into a major flag football event with such high expectations. Rightly so, as we have seen. In a rematch of the 2019 final, the British women got revenge on the Spanish women and brought home the first title. The men's team also put in strong performances, failing to beat eventual silver medalists Austria by just one point in the quarterfinals.
For me, the most beautiful thing about the European Championships was the parity at the top. During the last 15 years, all too often there were only two questions: Who would win the other medals behind Denmark in the men's event and Austria in the women's event. It was predictable that there would be no big favorites this time, but my expectations were exceeded. With a bit of luck, both France and Great Britain, who finished 5th and 6th, could have made it to the finals. In the women's event, it was even better: Although the first 6 teams were almost on the same level here, too, additionally the European Champions lost to the Czech Republic in the preliminary round! In retrospect, this was probably the biggest upset of the entire tournament. I hope that this parity will continue in future tournaments. I am already looking forward to the 2024 World Championships, where, in addition to the top 6 nations in the men's competition, a resurgent Italy and the Swiss, who are on the upswing, will probably make up the European men's contingent.
A lot of things went wrong in the organization of the European Championships. Nevertheless, I see IFAF and the LOC (local organizing committee) at least partly as winners. The venue was well chosen, the local organization was good, especially considering the record number of participants. The accommodations and the catering were also fine. The live-streams of the two main fields including the commentary still have room for improvement, but were definitely an enrichment. All this can and must be upgraded, especially with regard to the looming decision of the International Olympic Committee. Unfortunately, there were also many things that should not even happen at a small soccer tournament (see below).
Apart from the fact that my two gold medal predictions did not work out, I am satisfied with my power ranking. In the men's tournament I predicted (with a little luck) all quarterfinals correctly, in the semifinals only the 1-point defeat of the French against the Israelis spoiled my perfect prediction. In the women's competition, my predicted winner Austria was already eliminated in the quarterfinals, but as expected, the games were extremely close.
Power Ranking Germany
As satisfied as I am in principle with my power ranking, the fact that I underestimated one nation makes this part of the prediction a loser. In both the women's and men's events, Germany exceeded my pre-tournament expectations.
A sixth-place finish in the women's and a seventh-place finish in the men's was a disappointment for the Italians. The ELF-related absence of several key players on the men's side raises the question of how the Italian national flag football team will be put together in the future. If the sport becomes Olympic, all other nations will have to ask themselves the same question. However, one thing the European Championships have shown is that a team of tackle footballers who also play flag football at major events is not sustainable and is detrimental to the development of the top-level sport.
Already in the run-up to the Championships, the IFAF was criticized not only by me, but also by many others. To sum it up, the organizational side of major flag football events is not running smoothly. At the World Games last year (I can't say to what extent IFAF was involved), the format was changed during the tournament in a completely incomprehensible way and also at the European Championships, many things did not go well. Until a few days before the tournament it was impossible to get information about the rosters of the participating teams, the schedule and the format. When the groups were finally published, Cameroon appeared as a participating nation. Later it was said that Serbia would join the competition. In the end, both nations did not participate. Inquiries from me to several high-ranking IFAF officials went almost completely unanswered. I received a single reply in which I was promised that I would be put on the official e-mail distribution list and thus receive all relevant information going forward. This did not happen either. It is incomprehensible to me that so little value is placed on the media at the last major European tournament before the IOC decision. During the tournament, there were occasional problems with the live-streams, results were published late and sometimes inaccurately. Tiebreakers were announced extremely late and then initially applied incorrectly in the preliminary round table. One can only hope that those responsible will learn and take suggestions from the players, coaches and media involved to heart.