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EC 2010: More than just underdogs
When the European Championships will kickoff at Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena on July 24 it will be the first time six nations will participate in the final stages of the EC's A-pool. This expansion was made possible, because organising German federation AFVD could partner up with local authorities and the management of the Frankfurt stadium to provide the logistics for a nine-game- and one-week-long tournament. The two nations benefitting from this are Great Britain and France. The British national team did not need to be relegated to the B-pool after its fourth-place-finish in 2005, the French could be promoted to the A-pool of 2010 after they had failed to do so for the 2005 tournament when they lost the 2004 B-pool final game against Great Britain by just a single point (17-18).
However both teams certainly will be far more competitive than this seeding procedure implies. And both may further fuel their hopes due to the seeding procedure. Grouped in the preliminaries with reigning European champion Sweden both will face a young team from Scandinavia, with chances perhaps more evenly spread amongst the three teams than expected. Great Britain already showcased a surprising performance in their first ever game with Sweden at a three-team-tournament last year. Great Britain rolled past the reigning champion by 31-7, and the Lions, as their team is nicknamed, hope to be in similar good shape during the EC tournament. However, just four days before they had lost equally surprising to Australia, but the notion was that the team was able to handle that pressure very well and therefore should be ready for a tournament like the European championships.
So currently Great Britain is holding a mark quite unusual in this preliminary group: they never before have lost any game to each of their opponents. In five encounters with France it was the Lions roaring five times, most recently in November 2008. Only one of these games was in an European championship tournament, the above mentioned B-pool final game of 2004 (18-17). That is due to the fact that both nations had different timespans, in which they excelled on European level. The French participated in the inaugural tournaments of the 80's, but when Great Britain entered the scene in the late 80's for its first peak period, France's star was not shining as bright as before. With their two European championships of 1989 and 1991 the British have a bigger mark in the EC record books than the French, whose only EC win in the final stages or the A-pool of the competition dates back to the inaugural 1983 tournament.
While the British returned for three more participations at the turn of the century (however not in all that successful than before), the French won their last of three fourth places in total 19 years ago. However France has picked up pace in the last decade. They were on eye level with Great Britain in 2004, and in the meantime have not only participated in world championships, but also performed some major efforts in youth development. With more than 3,500 active players at junior or youth level according to IFAF statistics they are second only to Germany in Europe - and outnumber their British rivals considerably. Maybe on July 27 at Wetzlar, when the two meet in EC 2010, this talent pool may provide the edge. In their test against Germany the French already showed progress last year (21-49), when at least in the beginning they were able to put up some scoring against the Germans.