WEC Round 2 – We Weren’t expecting that!
On Saturday May 27th Finland travelled to Spain for their first game of the tournament. With the Spaniards not having played any competitive games for some time and the Finns having pushed the USA all the way at the 2022 Worlds, the expectation was for us to see a convincing win for the Nordic side.
Well, surprise, surprise. Finland’s powerful running game was well and truly stymied! Elite power runner Tytti Kuusinen managed only twenty yards on eleven carries as she was keyed by the Spanish defence to great effect. Interestingly Spain did next to nothing on the ground themselves, totalling a measly seven yards. Where they did the damage was through the air. Spanish quarterback Victoria Valverde hooked up with receiver Olga Solitto on deep balls to do the damage. Finland, who were fielding twenty rookies, couldn’t get the ball in the endzone, whereas Spain managed it twice. The game finished at a surprising 12-0.
A day later, over in Solingen Germany, the GB Lions were set to take on the Germans. After a lacklustre showing at the Worlds last year and having only recently appointed a new coach, the expectation here was for another GB victory to follow their recent convincing win over Sweden.
It couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Lions when Ruth Matta received the opening kick-off, completed a bit of trickeration with Siobhan Walker and then watched as the London Warriors standout raced all the way to the endzone off the back of two key blocks for the opening score!
Samantha Reed’s trust boot converted the score, 7-0 GB. Later in the first quarter it was more of the same from Walker. Sweeping right off a block by Matta, she found the endzone again and moments later ran in a two-point conversion, 15-0 to the Lions.
Siobhan Walker was good for the first two scores for the Lions
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the Germans crumble, but they were determined to get back in the game! Some stout defending saw them pin the Brits inside the own ten, and when an errant snap bounced around in the endzone to be recovered by the punter, they had their first points by way of a safety. Germany 2 – Great Britain 15 was the score at the end of the first quarter.
Back in possession and buoyed by troubling the scorer, the Germans made some good gains on the ground. With the Lions focussing on stopping the run, quarterback Silvana Friese unleashed the ball deep left for Anja Treiber, who outpaced the cornerback, secured the ball and ran in for the score! The two point was good, and it was now a one-score game. 15-10 Lions. The Germans, had the momentum and drove all the way down to the Lions one, utilising the run and some key passes from Friese to her favourite targets, Treiber and Ellen Reiss. Friese went under centre, took the snap and squeezed in for the go-ahead score. The conversion failed, but at half-time the Germans led 16-15.
Silvana Friese could spin it deep
After the break both defences had the measure of the offenses, that was except, with ninety seconds left in the third quarter, when Lions QB Angelina Fisher ran right into some heavy traffic, reversed her field and swept left into the endzone, running through some would be tacklers on the way. Read nailed the conversion and the Brits were now back in front, 21-16.
Angelina Fisher showed her power to find the endzone
Into the final quarter and it was all to play for. Neither team could make consistent progress, but then a moment of deja-vu was to seal it for the Germans. With just over four minutes left in the game Friese went long to Riess, a moment of hesitation from the British defence and she was behind them, catching the ball and turning on the burners all the way to the endzone. It was all square at 22 and the pressure was all on the German kicker. The snap and hold were good and so was the kick! Giving the Germans a one-point margin. Inside the two-minute warning the Lions offence were moving the chains, but not quick enough. As they arrived at the German’s ten-yard line, the clock ran out and signalled the end of a totally unexpected weekend of results.
Can she kick it? Yes she can!
I soke with Bo Steward after the game, who found some positives in defeat. “Naturally, it was a hugely disappointing result, however the positives that come from such a tournament are for those rookies who get to experience the travelling games, as we don't have the away tournament like we have done previously. The team has grown in bond as well as desire. Seeing big wins from both Germany and Spain has definitely spiced up this European Championships. All the teams are at different stages of their process, so it's so exciting for the women’s game to continue to grow in a competitive manner”.
So where do we go from here? Well first off Finland will travel to Sweden in August looking to redeem themselves and get back on track, whilst a re-surgent Germany will travel to Spain wanting to show the victory over GB wasn’t a one-off. The Lions will have plenty of time to reflect and prepare for their next game in the tournament, a visit to Spain in April 2024. Finland and Germany will face-off in May 24. The last games, which will determine the medals, will take place between August 16-18 2024. When the schedule was set, it showed the “final” game will be between Great Britain and Finland, interestingly given the recent results, it might not be for the gold and silver medals.
Images courtesy of Geoff White – Visit gw-images.com to see more