Photographer: Riitta Rinta-Tassi
Looking at the three teams in this years Under 19 European Championships fans have some exciting games to look forward to. Finland, Sweden and hosts Denmark all look to secure the bragging rights of winning the tournament against their rivals as well as booking a ticket to the Under 19 World Championships.
The ambition of the participants cannot be questioned, so besides hard fought battles on the gridiron, what can fans expect from the three games being played in Gentofte, Denmark?
Keep an eye on the trenches in all three games in these championships, because the offensive and defensive lines look very impressive. Line play can often dictate a game, and all three teams look to come out on top in the battle of the big boys.
‘Boys’ is perhaps not the greatest way to describe the powerhouses spearheading both the respective offenses and defenses as several players from all teams boast superior strength than the average human being, and mix that with the football knowledge and technical ability of the talented young men, we’re in for a treat.
Also, worth noting is the intelligence and experience on both the offensive but in particular the defensive side of the ball on all three teams. Being able to quickly diagnose a play before the snap and adjust to how the offensive play pans out is key to being a good defender, and mix the intelligence with the raw athletic ability on these teams, and you get the basis for spectacular plays on both sides of the ball.
The Finland Blue Lions won last year’s Nordic Championship, which featured the same three teams as this year’s European Championship, which puts a target on their backs, as Sweden and Denmark look for revenge. To keep the challengers at bay Finland relies on their offensive line to pave the way for good rushing yardage as well as a clean pocket and good time for the aerial attack.
Several players play with the seniors despite their young age, and experience is one of the elements that make this offense click. Keep an eye on the offensive line and the likes of Aleksi Olavuo, who won All-Star honors for Massachusetts Eastern Athletic Championship Conference – his high school division.
On the defensive side of the ball human wrecking ball Dennis Ilmelä played a key part of the Helsinki Roosters championship run last year, and he is another of the Finnish players with high school experience from the US. Pass rush from the defensive line and coverage in the secondary by several players with experience from the Maple League – Finland’s best division – make the Blue Lions a tough team to pass against.
The Swedes boast an athletic squad with pure physical ability that’s hard to match. Averaging 193 centimeters and 123 kilograms the sheer size of the offensive line is closing in on the offensive lines of the NFL and making the unit hard to overlook – both literally and metaphorically. Also noteworthy on the offensive line of Sweden are multiple scholarship offers from division 1 schools in the college ranks of America for multiple players.
Looking at the players trying to take advantage of the work of the big guys up front is quarterback Michael Cox Jr., who has won 8A high school state championships last year for his Miami high school as well as tailback Vilinthon ‘Villy’ Tengroth. Tengroth has the nickname ‘Wheels’, and with a clocked 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds that nickname is easy to understand.
Defensively Sweden poses a threat for opposing offenses on all levels of the defense. Athletic ability is in abundance on this side of the ball too, and is evident on both the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. As a veritable chess piece for defensive coaches Rafael Martín Macarro was originally intended to play safety, but impressed at outside linebacker and will even put his hand down and rush the passer as a defensive end at times – a testament to his versatility.
The hosts of the tournament are not without chess pieces of their own as one of the profiles for the Danes is running back Emil Neumann. The back is adept at both catching and running the ball well with his combination of speed and power, and his football intelligence makes him a good blocker as well, giving the offensive minds on the sideline flexibility to exploit opposing defenses. Another playmaker to look out for is wide receiver Thomas Ashworth, who has the speed and the experience to pose a threat on any given play.
Blocking for the talented running back is an offensive line headlined by Kasper Kaufmann Sørensen. Sørensen is said to be one of the most physically gifted offensive linemen the team has ever seen with a hallmark of his being his proficiency at the point of attack.
Defensively keep an eye on Mark Voll – the talented safety is a key part of the unbeaten Søllerød Gold Diggers of the best division in Denmark, playing alongside former NFL-player Desmond Cooper. His instincts and experience makes him a very good coverage back with an uncanny ability to read the quarterback. Denmark also has a man on the defensive line who can match the physical play of the opposing offensive lines – Marcus Boesen. He is currently the world record holder in powerlifting, squatting an astonishing 276 kg’s earlier this year setting the World Sub-Junior Record.