|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.
(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.
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.