EFAF is followed by IFAF Europe
Germany and Austria cannot await their EC 2010 clash
A last-second 51 yard field goal - that is the difference. No, not much at all: just a narrow margin, which not only put German champions Berlin Adler ahead of the Vienna Vikings, Austrian champions of 2009, in an exciting final game for Eurobowl XXIV, but also currently is defining the slim advantage Germany is holding on its archrival Austria. The two Central European neighbours feature a long-time rivalry, so no other game would be more suited to open up this year's European Championships at Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Wetzlar on July 24. With their thrilling encounter on eye level both club teams delivered a stunning preview of what fans may expect of their countries national teams at Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena to start off the six-team tournament for the European crown.
Do not be misled by the fact, that Germany already has its considerable share of past EC glory with one championship in 2001 on record and three more trips to EC finals, while the Austrians are preparing for what is just their third participation in a final tournament, the last dating back to 1995, when they hosted the event and took third place by their only A-pool win up to now. The style, in which they marched through the current qualification cycle, dominating the C-pool and B-pool tournament alike, has all it takes to pile up a lot of respect for them not only on the German side.
The Germans have experienced some bitter lessons, when it comes to their rivalry with Austria in recent years, even if their national team is still unbeaten against Austria. In fact Austria up to now not even scored one single point in their two past encounters in 1997 and 1998. But that was long before the Austrian club teams moved out to conquer the EFL and try to bump the Germans from the Eurobowl throne. It is only this 51 yard field goal that saved the Germans from falling behind and ensure them the current record mark of seven Eurobowl victories, while Austria remains at six. But on the way to the Austrian streak of six Eurobowl victories in a row between 2004 and 2009 some crushing defeats for German teams were included, which red-alerted those in Germany sensitive enough to take the Austrian challenge serious.
So while everybody in the two countries still has his set of arguments, why the own level of play is superior to the other and one small but in no way determining hint was given by the Berlin Adler, the preview for the much-awaited EC opener is very simple: just everything is possible. Germany relies on a broad league play with the 12 GFL teams only the top of a strong pyramid of about 170 senior tackle teams in league competition. It is no co-incidence that the Berlin Adler are the fourth different club from Germany winning the EFL, all other nations like the Austrians fielded no more than two different teams. 18,000 male German tackle football players outnumber not only everybody else on the continent, but also Mexico and even Canada according to IFAF statistics. So an enormous talent pool feeds Germany's national team and - an interesting parallel to European-style football - guarantees the national team its elite rank even while the clubs seem to have to struggle for international success.
On the other hand this strength of the German federation's organisation - to field leagues in all parts of a big country like Germany - makes it harder for the coaching staff to track all their players. And nowhere else in Europe the season is that long as it is in Germany, which in some way not only explains why German clubs in European competitions do not always rise up to expectations, but also puts another burden on the shoulders of national team coaches, who have only short timeframes to gather their players, even before big tournaments like the upcoming European championships.
In Austria the season will conclude 15 days before the EC opener, and at least these last two weeks everybody in the Austrian organisation will have his eyes set on this one target: defeating Germany at Frankfurt and continue right on to the final game. The Austrian top league AFL this year was expanded to eight clubs, but again it were the „big four“ clubs, which already excelled in recent EFL seasons and also in past Austrian American Football history, who made it to the playoffs. All these four clubs undisputedly are European elite and it still remains to be seen, how the top four clubs from the German GFL would fare against them. In terms of public recognition at for instance Innsbruck and Vienna they seem to have closed the gap on German „attendance champions“ Kiel or Braunschweig already, and wise use of that precious commodity in a country not that spoilt by success in all kind of summer sports ensures continued progress for the level of play.
For the national team it not only will be of advantage that the season for the clubs will be over and far more joint practice time will be possible. Also the concentration of national players in just a handful of club teams has its benefits. Coaches and players know each other very well, most units of the teams will be nearly the same than in the clubs. Thus Austria will be a strong contender not only for Germany, but for everybody else as well in the EC tournament. It may be bad luck for Germany, that they will have to be the first to put Austria to the test - but everybody watching these two archrivals battling it out on the eve of July 24 will certainly witness some fine American Football. And perhaps a deciding long field goal try in the end.
It is time for champions - on Sunday the Vienna Vikings will host the Berlin Adler at Vienna's Hohe Warte for Eurobowl XXIV, the final game of this year's European Football League. It is the first time a reigning Austrian champion will face a reigning German champion in the Eurobowl final. Quite a perfect timing: Both nations currently share the record mark of six past Eurobowl victories, so the battle for Eurobowl XXIV has historic dimensions as well. The Vienna Vikings won four Eurobowls in a row from 2004 to 2007, fellow-Austrians Tyrolean Raiders brought home the trophy in 2008 and 2009. Germany's first triumph dates back to 1995, when the Düsseldorf Panther won at Stuttgart. They were followed by the Hamburg Blue Devils (1996-1998) and the Braunschweig Lions in 1999 and 2003.
As there is a strong notion in both Austria and Germany that the respective own national league - Austria's AFL and Germany's GFL - has the better level of play than the other, the game at Vienna already has its main plot. But there is plenty to add: With a victory the Vikings could further expand their all-time-lead in the category of Eurobowl victories on three-time champions Bergamo Lions and Hamburg Blue Devils, becoming the first team to win the trophy five times. Their eighth qualification for the final game already put them ahead by two on six-time-finalist Bergamo. On the other hand Berlin could expand a German EFL record mark, as already Germany is the only country featuring three different clubs with Eurobowl victories, the Adler could become the fourth team to win the trophy. And Berlin even has a chance to accomplish an all-time-first: They could be the first team from both Austria and Germany to win an Eurobowl on foreign soil: All 12 Austrian and German victories of the past were helped by home field advantage.
So again this might give the Austrians a slight edge in this year's game, however Berlin has proved in an exciting semifinal game at Innsbruck that they are able to win abroad - as they did before in the quarterfinals visiting Finnish champion Porvoon Butchers and in the preliminaries at Czech champion Prague Panthers. With another win at home against Stockholm Berlin eliminated three other national champions in total, while Vienna surpassed the national champions of 2009 from Italy (Bolzano) and France (La Courneuve) in the current competition. With this on record there is no doubt that exactly those two teams from the Austrian and German capitals deserve their spot in the final.
Also there is no doubt that EFL 2010 fulfilled EFAF's approach to stage this competition as an elite tournament, in which Europe's top clubs compete. A true „champions league“ of American Football, in which all champions of the major European American Football countries take part (plus the runner-ups from the most advanced national leagues in European American Football and the four EFL semifinalists of the preceeding season). Within the last decade the EFL finally lived up to expectations, a remarkable development as only nine years back there were just teams from six nations competing and most champions from the top national leagues were absent from the competition. A reliable scheduling formula with 16 starting spots has helped to adjust the EFL schedule to the needs of the clubs, which of course have to coordinate the European competition with their own national season. Additionally from year to year the Eurobowl final has grown as an event, and with the ultimate matchup of this year it is guaranteed that this trend will continue.
And in comparison to the early days of Eurobowl the differences are even more noticeable. The Berlin Adler, who have been to one of these Eurobowl finals in earlier years, are a pretty good example, not only for the fact, that long-term American Football programs in Europe are possible. When they traveled to Offenbach in 1991 to face the Amsterdam Crusaders (and subsequently lost 20-21, a loss the club, which is very proud for its 30+-year-tradition, still in some way suffers from and is using for motivation for Sunday's game), they did so without even winning a semifinal game - as well as their opponent Amsterdam. The semifinals in that year had to be suspended, because both other qualified clubs simply failed to take their journey to the scheduled games. So the two exciting semifinal games we saw some weeks ago, when Vienna beat Graz 38-22 and Berlin beat Tyrol 29-27, where just another indication of how much progress European American Football has made in a short timespan of just a few decades.