Having lost the three previous European Junior Championship finals, Germany triumphed at the 2008 event in Spain after a closely fought 9-6 battle with Sweden.
Germany, Sweden and third place winner France now have the opportunity to compete at the 2009 IFAF Junior World Championship in Canton, Ohio, next summer. The European Federation of American Football (EFAF) will confirm which teams will represent the continent in the United States before September 15.
The championship game’s points did not materialize until the fourth quarter, following a first half in which each team was forced to punt away possession on every drive. Sweden had threatened to get the upper hand when Philip Widerstroem produced an interception, but the deadlock could not be broken.
Ironically a botched Germany punt kept a drive alive as having seen the ball snapped over his head, punter Paco Varel scrambled for the 11 yards Germany needed to make a first down on the most impressive drive of the game. With 6.36 remaining and Germany gaining confidence, a field goal game them a slight three-point edge.
Swedish quarterback Anders Hermodsson was sacked on a crucial fourth down scramble and championship game MVP Randall Pane burst through several tackles up the middle to race to the and zone and a earn Germany a 9-0 lead.
‚I didn’t think I would make it,” admitted Pane. ‚But the fullback made the perfect block and the linebacker maybe underestimated me a little because of my size.”
Sweden was far from finished and having almost broken free for a touchdown on the kickoff return, a perfect pass from Hermodsson to Arnat Jobe gave them hope with 1.32 remaining. Sweden recovered the onside kick, but Germany produced an interception on a last gasp fourth down pass to secure the championship.
‚This was a defensive battle, and our defense won the game for us, as the offense struggled,” said German National Team Program Director Peter Springwald. ‚We did have luck with the broken play on the punt, but I think we were a stronger and a deeper team.”
Swedish head coach Jan Jenmert, whose team recorded Sweden’s highest ever EJC finish, added: ‚Our players had great respect regarding the final, and with respect comes nervousness. The Germans had been to the final before. Our defense played a heck of a game, but the offense made some mistakes. This was devastating for the players, and was an emotionally and physically tough game.”
France won the bronze medal and third place with a 28-14 win over Denmark, while Austria claimed fifth place overall with a 20-13 victory against Russia, and Finland took seventh spot by beating host Spain 39-21.
‚I think this tournament is more competitive than before", said France head coach Olivier Moret. ‚The gap between the best teams and the others is smaller now."
‚We were close to beating Sweden (in group play) for a place in the final, so it was difficult to focus on this. But we took this as our final, and played a good game.”
France fumbled away its opening possession, but after Denmark instantly turned the ball over on an interception at the French 10-yard mark, mistakes were eliminated. France scored on three of the next four drives.
The French rushing game gained 244 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry, including running back Maxime Sprauel’s one-yard dash for the first touchdown. Steven Joacin added to the lead from 29 yards out and team MVP Thomas Ruiz made the score 21-0 with a 47-yard touchdown at the start of the second quarter.
US-bound Danish receiver Shujaa Benson, who will play at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois this fall, scored on a spectacular 36-yard catch from Jesper Johnsen, but the French responded with a three-yard Joacin scoring run. Denmark’s comeback attempts were hampered by four interceptions, though Benson pulled in his second touchdown of the game with 1.06 remaining on a 16-yard pass from Jonsson.
‚It is disappointing to lose, but we also have to be pleased with Denmark’s highest ever finish in fourth place,” said wide receiver and team MVP Kevin Gangelhoff.
In the fifth place playoff game, Austria held off a late comeback attempt to defeat Russia 20-13. With two minutes remaining the Russians marched to within 20 yards of the end zone, but could not convert on fourth down and 11. Then with 26 seconds left on the clock, Austria produced an interception to seal victory.
Austria raced to a 12-0 lead with touchdowns by quarterback and MVP Stefan Holzinger and running back Florian Hoerhan. Russia replied with a rushing touchdown from Alwksey Medvedev, but that was followed by another Holzinger touchdown with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.
Austria fumbled away possession at the start of the second half and Vladislav Grigoriev threw a touchdown pass to Denis Batzkalovich after a lateral, but the Russian comeback failed to materialize.
A strong running game helped Finland to a 39-21 win over Spain to claim seventh place overall. The Finns gained 303 yards on the ground, with 6.3 yards per rush and leading the way was running back Timi Karjalainen, who rushed for 165 yards.
Despite Spain opening with two encouraging drives, Finland scored on two big plays. A Ville Lindsten run and Miro Kadmiry’s 84-yard breakout from a short pass inspired them to a 20-0 halftime lead.
Sergi Gonzalo entered the game as Spanish quarterback in the third quarter and he orchestrated the Spaniards‘ first scoring drive with his accurate passes. Roger Navas was the first to benefit with a 30-yard touchdown reception, but Lauri Pehu Lehtonen caught two touchdowns from Janne Lehtinen for Finland to lead 34-7. Spain scored two consolation fourth quarter touchdowns as Daniel Belso and Oriol Serrano caught end zone passes from Mats Jonsson.
Finnish head coach Sakari Pusenius said: ‚We started the game well, but then Spain got us in some of our weak points. We need more speed and stamina to compete better at this level.”
Spanish coach Jesús Fernández, whose team was physically the smallest in the tournament and also the least experienced, said: ‚Our conditioning and play went down as the tournament went on. We played a good game against France, but after that it was hard for the players”.
Seventh, Fifth and Third Place Playoff and Championship Game Results:
Seventh Place Playoff: Spain 21 Finland 39
Fifth Place Playoff: Russia 13 Austria 20
Bronze Medal Game: France 28 Denmark 14
Championship Game: Sweden 6 Germany 9