2008 EU Cup preview - France, Croatia, Czech Republic and Catalonia
Monday, October 06 2008 @ 05:32 pm ACDT
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
In part two of our preview of teams for the 2008 EU Cup, we take a look at Eastern Europe's first footballing nations, Croatia and the Czech Republic, as well as the growing leagues further west in Catalonia and France.
The French, Catalan and Croatian squads will be all-local, with the Czech Lions also fielding a larger local contingent than previous years, together with a diverse range of other internationals.
All four sides have seen some great growth in the last twelve months. The French have gone from two clubs to four around the country, with a few more in the works. The Catalans have returned to a four-team domestic league, with an expansion group in the tiny Catalan-speaking mountain nation of Andorra possibly joining the LFAC next season.
Making their EU Cup debut, the Croatian Knights are bringing a full squad plus spares to Prague, with the Zagreb Hawks forming a second "Saints" squad for scratch matches over the season. The Czech AFL has seen the start of domestic footy, with the Prague Tigers and Prague Lions playing three matches against each other over the past month.
With the maximum number of Australians this year reduced to 6 per squad of 15, these four sides may find themselves a little higher up the table than last year.
The Czech Lions are holding regular weekly training, but have also started playing practice matches on the weekends leading up to the cup. The three matches between the Prague Tigers and Prague Lions during September and October mark the beginnings of Czech AFL domestic competition.
The increased playing numbers compared with previous years means they can select a squad not just based on who's available. As Kevan Lyons tells us, "attendance to training is a key for this year's cup, a luxury we haven't had in previous years."
The team will include players from the Czech Republic, Ireland, the USA, Mali and a few Aussies. While he isn't making any bold predictions that they'll hoist the trophy come Saturday night, Lyons tells us "With improved preparation and a stronger line up, we hope to improve on our 5th place finish from 2007."
Regarding which players spectators should watch, the word is that Ladislav Hynk, one of the first Czechs to take up the game over the last few years, continues to improve. Jakub Komarek in the ruck will also play a key role.
For the past two months, the boys in Zagreb have been training four times a week. Kolja Koracak tells us "The practices are long and exhausting, concentrating on a specific part of the game and fitness at every practice. We have had between 10 and 16 people at every practice."
"Since there is only one club in Croatia, all members are from that team, but on the list we have about 20 players so the fight for first 15 spots has been tough. Some guys got injured, some pulled out, but we are bringing a full team to Prague and 2 extra players that will play for EU Crusaders."
The full squad will consist of Croatian passport holders, although a few were born in Australia. Croatia have been tough competitors in the CEAFL matches against the Czechs and Austrians, winning more than they've lost in the last few encounters.
Koracak says "This is our debut at the EU Cup, and we are excited to see how we rank in Europe. This is just the beginning of Croatia's EU Cup career, we are planning to be regulars at the EU Cup and to go to the International Cup in the near future."
Coming to the EU Cup for the first time, and not having played all their competitors before, Koracak says he isn't sure where they rank, although he rates the sides returning from the International Cup favorites because of increased experience. As for predictions, he simply says, "We'll play every game with 100% and hope to win. I see us somewhere in the middle, 5th to 8th place.
Koracak is confident his team have some very good players in their midst. "Renato Babic, I reckon he could be one of the best players in Prague, unstoppable, fast, great vision and great kick." He also tips Tomislav Cvetko, nicknamed "Buddy" by his teammates, as worth watching. "He reminds us in looks and style of play to Buddy Franklin" he explains.
Josip Kravar is coach and mastermind of their plays, as Koracak says "He knows the game, and with him on the pitch everyone plays better."
Les Bleus kicked off their season with a match against the Frankfurt Redbacks in March. With news clubs in Bordeaux and Montpellier bring the total in France to four, the first French Cup was held to pit the clubs sides against one another. This successful tournament saw the decision made to attend the first Catalan World 9s in Barcelona and the EU Cup in Prague.
Marc Jund tells us, "as every player has to pay his travel, a lot of guys couldn't go to both tournaments. In Barcelona, the French selection finally won, which gives us confidence for the future."
"The selection process took place after the French Cup in Pairs. Each team's manager chose best players in every team and that gave the first french selection for Barcelona and Prague. But like I told you before, at the end only the players who could afford to travel were selected."
"This year, the team has got players from all four national clubs and seems much more better than the selection we sent in Hamburg last year." The French have long placed emphasis on fielding locally-developed teams, with an all-French line-up including two players which have Australian-French dual citizenship.
Jund says "We'd like to finish in the top 6, better than 7th place last year. The star is the team. We have a good atmosphere between all the players since we organised the French Cup. Everybody knows each other."
The Catalans have been preparing since the end of June, when the LFAC's domestic Simba Cup season finished. They have had a big list to choose from, picking a squad of 24 players from which two squads of 15 were named for the World 9s in Barcelona and the EU Cup in Prague.
Pere Moliner tells us that "As luck would have it, the decision has not just been one of eliminating players based on economic ability to travel. The selection of each one of the players has been extremely difficult."
"We are happy to be able to present an exclusively Catalan team. If these fifteen couldn't make it, we'd present another fifteen Catalans. Obviously the standard of play will suffer by not being able to count on Aussies, be we believe international competition should mean a sporting contest between citizens of the countries they represent. Otherwise we risk making the competition 'see who can get the most Aussies and win'. This is the only way to nurture footy in a country. If we count on finding Australians who are living in our country, we have bread today and hunger tomorrow."
Regarding his expectation for the team, Moliner says "It wouldn't be a bad result if we made the quarter finals as we did last year. I think that matches our standard at the moment." He notes however that they could go higher or depending on the draw and a bit of luck.
Moliner believes his team has some good players, but feels they still have a lot to learn about playing footy, saying it's taken three or four years to start to get the basics down correctly. "Personally, I rate Mickey Rodriguez as our best player without a doubt. He has a few years' experience in Australia, and furthermore is a great athlete. Putting it politely, the rest of us, while improving little by little, are a long way behind him."