European Talent Shines In Pool Play, Quarterfinal Preview
Pool play has ended here in Hungary, and Europe lacrosse is on the rise. Placement games begin tomorrow morning, and I know everyone is looking forward to that. Meanwhile, I figured I’d take a look back at the four pools to see which teams had the toughest draws and which benefitted from their placements in group play.
Photos by Oskar Polak, Sniper Pix
Good news: this will be short, sweet, and concise. These are fairly simple observations and, while some folks will inevitably disagree, I think it’ll be pretty hard to argue some of the letter grades assigned…
Pool “A”: B
Pool A featured the immediately obvious heavyweight tilts between England, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the dark horse, Latvia. Bringing up the back were Hungary and Italy, respectively.
While Latvia was able to topple the Czechs, and the Czechs gave the Germans a run for their money in a two-goal game, this pool failed to provide us with any upsets. We had great lacrosse and a tight top four, but Latvia came up just short in its brilliant game with England, unable to break-up German chemistry despite their obvious physical advantage.
I really enjoyed watching these games for the most part, with the unhealthy parity between the tippy top and the very bottom being just an unfortunate situation.
Italy’s best showing and closest contest was with the home team, Hungary, in their first international win. Both teams look to contend for the top spots on the bottom of the bracket.
Pool “B”: A+
Pool B was the tightest group of the tournament. From the very first whistle, battles between these squads were unpredictable. With Wales taking an unexpected first seed going into the playoffs, the Scots earned a ride to the dance as well – their only loss came from the Welsh in the final game of Pool B play today.
Norway was the winner in my mind, coming away with an overtime over the Irish, as well as playing Wales to 1, giving Scotland a battle until the fourth quarter, and winning their two games against Austria and Denmark handily. Ireland is the biggest shock, who’s name appeared very high on many top 8 predictions, but who will now come out of their pool fourth with a best possible result of 9th place.
Denmark and Austria brought up the rear, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard from either. The Danish return to international play after a long absence from, and their infectious, positive attitudes make it very easy to cheer for these boys. They embody Europe lacrosse.
Pool “C”: D-
As far as strength of schedule, vast differences in skill level, and overall enjoyable games to watch, this had to have been the weakest pool. Israel will advance to the playoffs without ever having taken on a legitimate challenge. Is that good for Israel? Maybe. They’re fresh, but haven’t really had to battle in the way Germany and Wales had to battle to advance.
The best two games out of this pool would have to been the Swiss toppling the Swedish, who I had moving on to the top 8, and Belgium’s overtime odyssey with Spain. Responding from an 8-2 start to go into overtime tied at 10, this wasn’t just one of my favorite games from the pool, but from the whole tournament!
Slovenia finds itself sixth in its first ever dose of Europe lacrosse, but the welcoming nature of our community is still happy to have them here. Israel’s coaching staff even hopped sidelines at halftime to coach the boys up and, from what I understand, will have someone help them out the remainder of the way. That’s class.
Switzerland will play for a championship, with their worst-case scenario being an 8th place finish. I hadn’t given the Swiss the light of day before the tournament started, but I now expect them to do better than eighth. I look forward to watching them in the playoffs.
Pool “D”: C+
C’s get degrees.
Poland gave the Dutch a run for that second spot, however, playing the Netherlands to a stunning 4-2 final score. I found the game to be very exciting despite the lack of goal scoring – a stimulation my brain usually finds necessary.
Giving the Polish a solid game was Russia, who’s hard work made up the deficit to give the Polish a very tight finish in another fourth quarter fiasco.
Slovakia enjoyed a 11-2 win over France in it’s third ever appearance at the European Championships. Neither team has the luxury of a deep bench, which is tough in a long tournament like this, but these two squads have shown their heart and pride and wear their flags proudly on their uniforms.
While pool play wasn’t kind to France, I don’t see them walking out of this tournament in last place anymore. The relatively “easy” road to playoffs for the top two is the rationale behind my C+ ranking, but the tight level of play between the lower four teams really was enjoyable to watch.
Europe Lacrosse: 24 Teams Improving Everyday
With a 24 Europe lacrosse team tournament, a 4 pool system is a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it’s the correct way to go. There were some really good games, but there were also a litany of double-digit differences and blowouts. Those kind of games don’t benefit any of the players on the field who have paid their own way to Hungary to be away from family, friends, work and every other aspect of their lives.
Is it a bad thing? Is this a bad tournament? No. This is absolutely beautiful and I’m loving it.
But could we have a better system in the future that’s more qualitatively fair to all the Europe lacrosse teams present? That be nice.
I’d just like to take this last (ish) sentence to thank all the players who’ve been giving it their “all” on the field this week so far. I look forward to seeing you all fight it out until the last whistle. While there are many more thanks that need to be paid to a lot of other people, YOU are why we’re all here… thousands of miles from our homes/work/families/lives. It’s a thing that’s bigger than any one of you, but it’s about all of you. Europe lacrosse!
Moving forward, I have no doubt this is going to be a roller coaster of upsets and close games. The blowouts should be over, and I’m looking to see as many one-goal games and overtime showdowns as my little heart can handle… which is a lot.
Cheers from Hungary!