Steve Leibowitz
Steve Leibowitz

Israeli football teams take on the world — Part 8, the end

I hate to lose. It’s been a trait since childhood, and my competitive nature continues today at nearly 65. I was that way as a player in softball and football leagues (even against my sister in ping pong) and I am that way as the head of the American Football Sports Federation in Israel.

I desperately want to do everything needed to put Israel on the podium. It’s very frustrating when we do not win and I take it hard and blame myself. I raise the funds, help select the coaches and work to create leagues and competitions for the players so that when they take the field representing Team Israel, we have the best shot possible at bringing home a medal.

I failed. I know for certain that this year we put the very best teams on the field that we have ever had at the World Championship of Flag Football. Yet, it was not enough to bring home a medal.

The Israeli Women had to rebuild from a ninth place finish in 2014 when they did not even reach the quarterfinals. There was definitely improvement in Miami but the level of play had gone up all over the world. This time around we reached the final eight, narrowly beating Denmark and Brazil, while being blown out by Austria and Mexico.

Heading into the final eight we got matched against Panama which went on to take the gold medal. Our will was there, but the Panamanians had managed to train a fast and athletic squad that was not to be denied. Out of the medals, the women came close but failed to overcome reigning champion Canada. In the final match of the day our women showed character and managed to outlast France. It feels so much better to finish with a victory. The women finished 7th in the World. Two spots better than last time but no podium.

The Israeli men were 6th in the world in 2014 and this year we truly believed we had a team that had the talent to beat anyone. I don’t like to single out players but everyone in the football community knows the name Dani Eastman. He is without question the best football talent ever produced in Israel and was MVP at the last world championship. We had talent throughout the roster and no weak spots on offense or defense.

That talent was not translated into enough victories. Our best game of the tournament had Israel nearly beating eventual gold medal winners USA in the group stage. The men played great in the quarter finals with a huge comeback before falling short 35-27 against a eventual silver medalists Denmark. In the 5-8 placement game Israel was rolling 13-0 versus Canada when Eastman went down with a shoulder injury. Things went downhill from there with a tough loss to Canada before being blown out in the final game versus Italy. The highly touted men finished 8th in the championship, down two spots from 2014.

“Israeli football team take on the world” has come to a close. We did not bring home as many “W’s” as hoped for. For some of our players and coaches this will have been their last opportunity to represent the country. Some will return. The American Football Sports Federation must take a hard look at where we succeeded and where we failed. We must plan and build for the next time. Changes and adjustments will be made and Israel will be back to fight another day.

Having said that I must add before concluding that the players and staff of Israel football are an exceptional group of men and women. Being on the road with the tackle team in Italy and the Flag teams in Miami was exciting, exhausting, frustrating and challenging. What I can say for certain is that we always represented the country well and carried the flag proudly.

I also want to thank our sponsors that made the trip possible. The Kraft Family backed the tackle team and the women’s flag team and is always at the forefront of supporting football in Israel. The tackle team also had the generous support of the Wilf Family, the Swieca Family and a group affiliated with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The men’s flag team was sponsored by Ira Kleinman with kosher food in Miami donated by Michael Sage.

Woman's team huddle
Woman’s team huddle

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About the Author
Steve Leibowitz is a veteran journalist who moved from the U.S. to Israel in 1974. He is the president of American Football in Israel and the director of Kraft Family Stadium.