Thursday, July 12, 2007

Medal Round at a Glance

Pool play is over in the IFAF World Cup, meaning we're down to the placement games:

5th-place game:South Korea (0-2)vs.France (0-2)
Bronze medal game:Germany (1-1)vs.Sweden (1-1)
Championship game:United States (2-0)vs.Japan (2-0)

Obviously, the most anticipated of these games is the showdown between the United States -- the mother country of the sport -- and two-time defending world champions Japan. So naturally, I'll touch on that one last.


SOUTH KOREA vs. FRANCE
The good news is that one of these two countries will walk away from the IFAF World Cup on a winning note. South Korea has been massacred thus far in the tournament, tallying just two first downs total, both against Germany. In that stretch, the Koreans have been outscored 109-2, the second worst differential in tournament history (Finland was outscored 117-7 in 1999). But to be fair, Germany and the United States are both strong football teams.

Meanwhile, France also were the recipients of an epic beatdown, namely a 48-0 slaughter at the hands of host Japan in the tournament opener. However, the French nearly rebounded against Sweden, but fell 16-14 thanks to a Swedish field goal in the third quarter.

Prediction: France 16 - South Korea 7


GERMANY vs. SWEDEN
This one boils downs to a de facto European championship, pitting the two European countries to post wins in the IFAF World Cup against each other. Germany, home of most of the professional teams in now-defunct NFL Europa, showed its progress in American football by whalloping South Korea 32-2 in its opening game. The Germans allowed less than 100 total yards and only two first downs, dominating the contest from start to finish. The Germans then faced the United States, and although the final score (33-7) suggests a poor showing for Germany, the outcome was still in doubt heading into the fourth quarter. Most of the players on Germany's roster play professionally within German leagues.

Sweden struggled to defeat France in its opener, then were destroyed 48-0 by Japan.

This won't be close.

Prediction: Germany 27 - Sweden 6


UNITED STATES vs. JAPAN
This is the game the world has been waiting for -- the dominant force in IFAF history versus the birthplace of the sport. The USA is fielding a much weaker squad than it could, considering that (1) no professionals from any US or Canadian league were eligible, (2) no current college players were eligible, (3) no one who left college more than 1 year ago was eligible, and (4) all levels of NCAA athletics were required to be represented, not just Division I-A. Nevertheless, the United States squad has been much bigger, stronger, and more skilled than the two teams it has played thus far.

In contrast, the Japanese team, while young, represents the best the nation has to offer in way of American football players. The Japanese have destroyed their competition in pool play, posting a 96-0 scoring differential en route to the IFAF Championship game. They have the home crowd behind them, the history of never having been defeated in eight IFAF contests, and the title of two-time defending world champion. Clearly, the Japanese will take the United States seriously, but they will not fear America as South Korea and Germany likely did.

This game will come down to a few key factors:

(1) In football coaching is key. Even though the United States national team has only been playing together for a few weeks, each player on the roster has benefitted from at least four years of NCAA coaching. The strategy formation, experience, and understanding of football in America is unparalleled. The Japanese have been playing organized football for 70 years, but there is no way anyone could argue that they have closed the gap on America's supremacy in this regard.
ADVANTAGE: UNITED STATES

(2) Regardless of what the casual observer might think, the most important players on a football field are the linemen, both offensive and defensive. A great offensive line will make average quarterbacks and halfbacks look exceptional, while a weak one will make the superb backfield look ordinary. America's linemen are huge, well-coached and experienced. Japan's lines are easily the second best in this tournament, but America's are better.
ADVANTAGE: UNITED STATES

(3) Location can be huge in football. Ask any player who has ever been on the visiting side when facing NFL teams like the New York Giants or Oakland Raiders, or NCAA teams like the Tennessee Volunteers, Oregon Ducks, Ohio State Buckeyes, or Florida Gators. A rabid home crowd can affect a football game. Japan has the home field, but their fans are polite and courteous. In most aspects, these adjectives would be ones of praise. However, in terms of intimidating the opposition, they are backhanded compliments. Furthermore, the largest crowd to date in this tournament (about 14,000) would rival only a top-flight high school crowd in America. The crowd won't be much of a factor, but it will be almost 100 percent pro-Japan.
ADVANTAGE: JAPAN

(4) Desire can overcome skill. The Japanese are a people of tremendous pride. They want to show America that they can play America's game. The first two contests, both 48-0 results, were examples of that Japanese pride, but Japan's national team will play its hardest on Sunday against the Americans they have been waiting to face for over a decade. The United States team, made up of recent college graduates, are honored to represent their country. They will also play with intensity, as they know that defeat in football would be a disgrace to themselves and their homeland.
ADVANTAGE: JAPAN

The Japanese fans who follow American football have been awaiting this matchup for some time. They won't be disappointed by the level of play on the field, as this game promises to be the most spirited and entertaining of the tournament. They will, however, be disappointed by the outcome.

Spirit and pride are wonderful things to have in competition, but they can only do so much. America will show up with strong will themselves, and armed with superior athletes in the trenches as well as the skill positions, and a veteran coaching staff, they will not be denied the crown of their own sport.

Prediction: United States 24 - Japan 10


If you disagree with any of the predictions posted above, or have any points to add to the commentary, feel free to post a comment. I'd especially like to hear from some of the fans outside the United States.

14 comments:

Bearhanded said...

Great writeup. While I would love a Japan win simply because of the interest it would generate in the rest of the world, I don't think it will happen. As they are now, they are simply too undersized to stand up to the constant rushing attack I'm sure the US team will bring.

That being said, once the Cup is over I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on what other countries can do to boost interest in the sport and overall, what steps they need to take to become true competitors in the competition now that the US has entered the ring.

I suggest this because my dream is for football to become the next "basketball" in terms of a US sport spreading out and fostering legitimate competition from around the world. I'd just like to know if there's any hope of this.

Gerry said...

Thanks for the compliment.

I'd love to see American football spread around the globe. Once the tournament is over, I'll try to address this point. This is a new blog, and after this tournament, there will be plenty of downtime before the next one.

What I hope to do is monitor international competition in American football here, drawing some attention both in the U.S. and abroad to the international game.

NFL games are broadcast live in Germany, and I'm sure that is why the game is more popular in Germany than most other nations outside of North America. That said, the NFL will not be able to make this happen by itself.

I'll talk more about this topic in the future ...

Big Mike #3 said...

I have been following this tournament a lot. My little brother is on the US team. I was wondering if you know of anywhere that I could find video or more images of the game?

Gerry said...

big mike #3

Take a look in the comments section for the USA-South Korea recap. I haven't tried these myself to see if they actually have game feed, but I do know NHK TV has live online feeds of their television broadcasts.

If you find out anything more on the subject, let us know here.

Aaron said...

This game does sound interesting with 2 dominate teams in the competition meeting on the weaker teams home field. I think team USA will win but it may not be the blow out that it might look on paper. As has been pointed out in some of the comments why not just run the ball down the throats of the other teams? 3 interceptions against clearly inferior teams doesn't look good.

Thanks for the blog its been the only coverage of this event I've seen.

Okumura said...

We, Japanese American Football fans, expect Japan will win the cup again, and as a result, U.S.A. will consider the cup more seriously and send stronger team to the next world cup.
We don't think even the best Japan team can compete NFL team, but want to match up to at least NCAA top divition level. Our team need experience to play with such team in serious competition, not in exhibition or frendship games.
We understand Japan is far behind U.S.A. in actual, but remember that Japanese All-Star baseball team lost most games against 3A level teams in 1950's, but 50 years later many Japanese play in MLB and Japan won the WBC.
American Football is more athletic sports than baseball, I mean it need more physical strength, even though, we expect Japanese American football history will follow baseball, and expect next U.S.A. team will be NCAA All-Star or some team like that level.

GO! JAPAN GO!

Gerry said...

Okumura thanks for posting your thoughts.

If you are correct, and Japan defeats the US on Sunday, then I suspect you will get to see a stronger US team at the next competition.

We're all rooting for international football to become more popular and hoping the level of play will continue to rise. There is no question that Japan is far ahead of everyone besides the United States.

But, as you said, American football is a physical game, and had the US done what you had asked for and sent an All-Star NCAA team -- or worse yet, any sort of pro team -- the results would have been disastrous. People can get hurt in this game when the disparity of size and ability is great.

Injuring your opponent is no way to make them want to play your sport, and I think USA Football had this in mind when they declined the first two World Cups and then assembled this roster.

That said, I think you might be a little surprised on Sunday if you expect Japan to win. Japan may win, but just because the US team isn't very strong by American standards does not mean it is a bad team.

As it is now, the US offensive line averages 13 kg (28 lbs.) heavier than the Japanese unit. In fact, the US defensive line weighs in at the same size as the Japanese offensive line, which ordinarily should not be the case. What all this means is the US will have the size to terrorize the Japanese backfield while being able to protect its quarterback and open running routes for its halfback.

Good luck to your team and your country on Sunday, Okumuru. We're both confident in our teams. One of us will be right, but either way, this should be good for the sport.

Anonymous said...

the route will be on sunday

GlobalGridiron said...

I am in Tokyo for the World Cup and have seen every game thus far. I want to let you know Japan has a much better shot at winning on Sunday than people think. They run a 4 wide, shotgun offense and are coached extremely well. Despite their lack of size they are able to penetrate the backfield on defense and open holes on offense due to their complex blocking schemes. In fact, Sweden's offensive and defensive lines are much bigger than the US and the size of the players didn't effect Japan one bit. If it doesn't rain (currently there is a typhoon off the coast of Japan that is supposed to hit on Sunday) Japan will be in the game, if not winning, in the 4th quarter. If it rains as expected, USA may have the advantage because the Japanese passing offense will be ineffective. However, Team USA didn't take care of the football against Germany and the Japanese defensive players are ballhawks. This game could go either way.

If Japan wins their will be people in the United States that think it is a joke because we didn't send Ray Lewis, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Peyton Manning. Let us not forget that it took football in the United States close to 50 years to really become popular and another 25 before it became the game we know today. The USA team is a solid team with many guys either trying out for NFL teams or turning down Arena League tryouts so they could participate in this event. We are not sending our best but it's certainly not a ragtag group of guys.

The growth in development of football in many countries is very strong and will only continue to be stronger in the years to come. IFAF is currently doing some great things despite the many challenges that it faces. Growing a sport in the modern day is much different than the way sports were grown almost a century ago and they are doing a tremendous job of recognizing this.

When football is in the Olympics in the next 20 years we will all realize how quickly the game is growing around the world.

My prediction: If there are heavy rains, USA 18-13...If it doesn't rain that heavily, Japan 27-24!!!

Henning said...

I am playing American football since some years in Germany and I would love to see it grow in the
interest of the German public. Within a couple of years a lot of teams in Germany developed in provinces and big cities and I am not talking about the NFL Europe but the German teams.

Nevertheless American football is still an amateur sport in Germany and no German player earns a salary
to survive from. Most of the players have to pay for their equipment, club membership, the away game trips and so far.
As far as I am informed also the trip to Japan has partially to be payed by the players themselves.

Football is not practiced at schools but nevertheless football clubs offer youth teams for beginners.

I would like to see some stronger engagement by sponsors and the media for the German American football, because sponsoring is the only way for teams in Germany to survive...

Speaking about the German national team at this WC: regarding these circumstances and that most of our fellows have a job besides I think they did a good job so far. There's a lot more to do and I hope after the termination of the NFLE this great sport will still remain present in the mind of the people.

We have an awesome local football websites covering what's going on in German American football, which
comes unfortunately only in German:
www.nordfootball.de

I am a bit surprised that the umbrella organization for German AF did not offer an English translation of their webpage www.afvd.de

Gerry said...

Henning,

When I was in Germany a couple of years ago, I watched some NFL games broadcast live on a German station, with German commentators. Is this a common practice?

What kind of attendance do German league American football games draw?

I agree with you on the performance of the German team. As I stated in my predictions, the German team still had the outcome of their match with the US in doubt as late as the fourth quarter.

Henning said...

Gerry,


at the moment the British(?) Cable station NASN (North American Sports Network) is showing 3-4 games a week in the running season. On German TV you might get only the SuperBowl live and with German commentators.
Some regional stations were covering some games of the NFLE. I never saw any German Team playing on TV.

Attendance for regular games in German American Football differ much depending on the location and the level of the league. Berlin is a bad place since people are bombarded with all different kind of sport events. I would say 600-700 people on average for a game of Berlin Adler may be a realistic number.
Other teams claim to have between 1,000-2,000 visitors for some games. At the moment I guess no German team can rely on revenues from game ticket sales.
I saw some NFL games live in Miami together with a fellow and we plan to attend the NFL game in London this year.

GlobalGridiron said...

I believe the German Football League (GFL) will become stronger now that NFL Europa is defunct. I've spoke with many people within the international football community over the last week and the general consensus is NFL Europa was hurting the GFL in terms of sponsorship and tv contracts.

The NFL went into Germany and wasn't concerned with getting maximum dollars for sponsorship or tv so they offered their product at a discount price. The GFL couldn't sell their product because why would you put your money into the GFL if you could put it into NFL Europa for the same price?

The games today were great matchups. The Koreans shocked France 3-0 on a FG with 2:09 left in the game. It was the first offensive points Korea scored in the tournament. They played with a passion and heart that I haven't seen in a long time. They had no business winning that game but outworked a better France team from the start. I don't want to take anything away from them but the field conditions contributed to their success.

The field conditions were even worse for the European slugfest that followed. It was a hard hitting game with Germany scoring on a 85 yard punt return in the 3rd quarter for the only score of the game. A bad punt snap with 30 seconds left gave Sweden another chance at Germany's 20 yard line but they weren't able to put it in the endzone.

Tomorrow's Championship will be a game featured on IFAF Films for years to come. It's going to be an instant classic!!!

Henning said...

congratulations for team USA. Seemed to be a thrilling game.

I heard people arguing that the end of NFLE will boost GFL Football. I hope they will be right. Fact is that a lot of people who'd visited NFLE games did not come to see GFL or other league games even in the NFLE off season. I don't believe that this is related to ticket prices. Maybe that has to do with mismanagement of the clubs or low budgets?

Great site Gerry, and I am glad that there are guys who care about what's going on in the rest of the American football world...