How do the 31 mens teams competing in London stack up as we enter the competition?
June 14, 2016 by Lorcan Murray in Coverage, Opinion with 3 comments
With WUGC nearly upon us, it is time to learn a bit more about the teams who will be competing in London. Lorcan Murray, an Ireland-based Ultiworld contributor, has pulled together previews for many of Europe’s Mens National Teams as well as a subjective Power Ranking for the Mens division heading into the tournament. We will be sharing these articles throughout the week.
These rankings are determined through a combination of placement at preceding tournaments1, as well as WFDF rankings and research conducted by myself over the last few months. While I have attempted to make these rankings as objective as possible, they remain at the end of the day a work of opinion.
With that disclaimer handled lets go!
1) United States
Self-explanatory. The US has sat atop the mountain since some pie-filled students first tossed tins across Yale’s campus. It is universally accepted as an anomaly when the USA does not come out on top — 2008 sticks out like a sore thumb in their Open teams’ storied past. When it comes to competing for any of ultimate’s top international prizes, one must go through the Americans. By no means does this grant their position at the head of the table invulnerability, more a Spartan sense of superiority. This summer the great Frisbee hordes shall descend on London intent on tearing down the Ultimate Empire. We’ll see who remains standing.
Not to be left out in the cold by their North American neighbors, Canada are the other established western power. Canada feels like perennial finalists, always seeming to put up the best opposition to America’s dominance. However in 2012 they fell short of their traditional finals berth, nor did they put up the most memorable fight against the US2. Does this result mean they should lose their coveted No. 2 spot? Simply put: no. They’ve been too good in the interim — gold in 2014 for the Juniors and consecutive silvers at the U23’s in 2013 and 2015 overshadow a disappointing WUCC for the Canadians. Their recent game against USA in Colombia shows Canada’s ability to push the founding fathers to the brink. In my eyes, they remain the favorites in every match-up except one.
The Usurpers Court
Ever since ultimate took its tentative first throws outside of North America, the skill gap has been shrinking. Each four-year cycle, the whispers sprout afresh in the background of club meetings: “Man, the National squad is really going for it this year; that’s the best squad I’ve ever seen, they could really go far.” Yet each four-year cycle, those dreams are abruptly squashed. Well, this time the “other” teams look REALLY strong!
3) Great Britain
London is calling; war is declared and the battle is coming down. GB has been pushing itself over the last few years to reach the heights of its prodigal sons. Remaining on top of the game in Europe, GB has tasted European Club and National team success with impressive showings at U23’s (4th) and in a selection of domestic American tournaments. That’s without mentioning that Clapham (the core of this National team) came closest to beating Revolver (USA) at WUCC 2014. Just don’t mention Sakai!
Deviation! I have always loved watching Japan play. Their approach harkens back to our species ancestral battle against the mammoth. When over-powering the opponent ceases to be an option, a new way has to be formed. That is the kind of fire the Japanese bring to the world stage. Fifth in World Games 2013, seventh for Buzz Bullets at WUCC, and a bronze for their U23’s last year in London shows their taste for English metal. An impressive win on universe point over Australia in last years AOUC final and Buzz Bullets dominance at this year’s Dream Cup proves this squad is ready to reclaim its spot as the top team from the Eastern Hemisphere — and should be taken seriously by the West.
If Europe is looked at as an analog to North American ultimate, then of late Germany has become the Canada to Great Britain’s America. The two squads stood above the rest of the field at last year’s European Championship, suffering one loss between them — Germany losing the final to GB. The squad has been training together for several years at this point and is fully refined for London. An impressive showing at U23’s and the US Open last year has convinced me they are well capable of improving upon the eighth they achieved in 2012.
Sport is what Australians do; it makes sense, as it’s damn near always a good day for a throw down there. Fielding athletic, imposing teams with just the loveliest smiles has become a staple for the Aussies. Their match against the US in 2012 was arguably the game of the tournament, showcasing their speed and nerve against the game’s best. An impressive fourth place finish from Colony at WUCC 2014 shows Australia can compete on the international stage. Tough losses to Japan at AOUC and the Dream Cup along with their close battles against other top eight competitors in Colombia gives the squad some solid homework to do before heading to London.
Wild, ferocious, and exciting play mixed with a chant that you will never forget, the Colombians are a crowd favorite. From experience and first hand accounts, I know how quick the Colombians are. They came in fourth at the World Games in 2013, but finished a disappointing 10th in Sakai and 11th at U23’s in London last year. However, they remain a threat. Colombia’s Open team has seen an injection of promising young talent from the impressive Junior teams of the early 2010’s. Their bronze at TEP on home soil last month included close games with the US and Canada and an auspicious victory over Australia. As anyone who has played them can tell you, the Colombians do not take long to hit full speed.
This summer will once again see a French army march on London, although how effectual this one shall be remains to be seen. While not possessing a top three record at the end of the European Championships last year, the French still held the bronze medal. This reflects the hardiness of a squad that has a tendency to perform best when the pressure is on — a trait that will serve them well once they step into the trash-compacting group stages of WUGC. The French have followed up their third-place at EUC in 2015 by impressing in European warm-up tournaments this year, winning the Confederations Cup and placing second at the recent Windmill Windup. They have earned their top eight spot in the preliminary rankings, whether they can earn it in London remains to be seen.
Out in the Courtyard
To make the top eight of a World Championship event is a sacred laurel. It has long been seen as a benchmark for upstart forces on the international scene. Next up in the rankings are the teams who are looking to make their mark on the tournament for the sake of national pride and growth. Most of these teams have been steadily improving over the last few years; all of them are looking to steal a spot in the quarterfinals.
Indefinitely impossible to predict, the Italians battled their way to a 6-5 record at EUC last summer, collecting big wins and close losses in equal measure. The U23 squad finished a reasonable 12th in London after a few narrow victories. More recently, they took home silver from the Confederations Cup and have scored impressive victories over second tier European rivals such as Ireland and Sweden. Their strong showings in warm-up events and unnaturally young team feed into the wildcard mythos.
10) New Zealand
Tucked away in a magical corner of the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand have been steadily making their way up the world rankings. Perennial little brothers to Australia, the Kiwis finished an impressive ninth in Japan 2012, narrowly missing out on a quarterfinal berth. This was followed by another ninth for their U23’s in Toronto 2013, which they improved to a sixth place finish last year in London. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see their senior team replicate that feat.
Belgium left the European championships with the third best record of any team at 8-3. The losses they suffered were in key games, but it can’t be denied they took home victories against strong European rivals. However, the gaps between Europe ‘s second tier forces are smaller than ever this year. Belgium could reasonably finish anywhere between eighth and 20th come the close of business in London.
The Irish enjoyed mixed fortunes at EUC, finishing eighth in a tournament despite having a record of 3-8. Combining this with the surprising eighth place finish of their U23’s last year grants them a surprise success story factor. Should these forces combine effectively, Ireland will be on to something dangerous — highlighted by their impressive bronze placement at Windmill two weekends ago, a position they achieved by knocking out tournament favorites GB in the quarterfinals.
There is a dark forest of European teams that occupy the space below Great Britain and Germany. Trading victories back and forth with each other, rising and falling against one another in the shadow of the continent’s main powers. France rose to the top of this group at Euro’s with a record similar to Austria’s. An impressive fifth place finish for their U23’s last summer showed promise that the Austrians could overtake France’s position come WUGC. A disappointing finish at the Confederations Cup in May highlights the work that remains to be done if the Austrians want to move up the continental pecking order.
With an impressive 8-4 record from EUC, Denmark have shown they can compete with any of their continental opposition when on form. However, their record is dampened slightly due to some of their wins being in the lower bracket of EUC. Recent outings have been more confident and a fourth place finish at Windmill Windup is a positive ego boost for the Danes ahead of WUGC.
After being the dominant European force for the first twenty years of international competition3, over the last fifteen years Sweden have wavered but still at times been among the best the continent has to offer. This fact was underscored by their impressive fourth place finish in Sakai. In the intermediate years, the Scandinavians have fallen off. The Swedes fought to a hard-earned 7-5 record at EUC last year, but were unfortunate to miss out on the top eight in Windmill 2016 due to a rough loss to Italy. The Swedes salvaged what they could at the tournament, finishing ninth. This placement shows that improvements need to be made if they want to fight their way back to the top eight in London.
16) Czech Republic
The Czech Republic were able to keep a modest .500 record at EUC, however it is their Silver medal from Windmill Windup 2015 and strong performances at the Confederations Cup that shows their volatile potential. Supporting this theory is Prague based club team FUJ, who have been on a tear on the European club scene for the last two years.
Climbing the Wall
Normally at a WUGC, this is where the well of competitive teams starts to run dry. Nineteen teams made the trip to Sakai — of those, only one will not be coming to England. With a 31-team roster headed to London, that means 13 additional teams will be vying for glory at this years’s WUGC. This new swathe of competition is no more apparent than in the 17-24 bracket. Squads down here could see themselves burn a trail to the quarters or crumble apart on their way to the bottom, depending on what kind of streak they hit. Grit and determination are the common denominators.
From a neutral position, it seems Switzerland did not have a good EUC last year, falling victim to teams both above and below them on these rankings. An impressive tenth place finish from their U23’s in London established a renewed ambition in this side. The Swiss brought this to the fore at the Confederations Cup by beating eventual finalists Italy in the group stages. The return of several veterans from the Masters division last year and the impending pressure of a World Championships indicates they have a lot more resources left in the vault.
The lowest ranked team with a winning record from EUC, Netherlands have certainly got some move. They have benefited the most from warm-up tournaments and are putting the work in to expand their skill set, although a last place finish for their U23’s and a lack of squad depth makes you wonder how limited those moves are.
An incredible sixth place finish in Sakai has seen little development in the intervening years. A disappointing if not outright poor performance at EUC and a notable absence from U23’s leaves a lot of question marks over what type of Finland will show up in London. Twelfth at Windmill 2015 is not a bad finish, but it’s not quite the great Finnish of old.
Latvia has been largely absent from international competition for a few years. Despite this, they were able to pick up a few wins from more recently established squads at EUC. The core of this team is based on club side Salaspils Wild Things, who scored a legendary win over European champions Clapham at the European Club Championships last year. How this one-off success translates to the national side remains to be seen.
Still fighting to find their feet on the international stage, expect the Spanish to improve on their performances in 2015 and close the gap between them and their peers. A slow start to the Confederations Cup turned into Sunday afternoon victories as they developed quickly over the weekend. The more they play together, the better they are getting.
22) South Africa
Bursting on to the scene in Sakai and finishing an impressive 13th for their efforts, South Africa have been quietly honing their craft since. A team that has a proven record of completing upsets, the South Africans are not to be lightly dismissed.
Absent from EUC, Israel remain a threat to any of the mid-card squads looking to breeze past them. They always have a star player or two surrounded by a workhorse squad. Ultimate Peace brings a special kind of passion and joy to our sport, one that runs through the blood of this team.
Singapore are looking to establish a global reputation in London this year. A fifth place finish at the AOUC is a good start, but they will need to have made considerable strides since to become a credible threat to the teams above them.
The rest of the positions on this list could reasonably occupy the same number. Either information on past performances is scant or simply non-existent. The very fact that we are counting this high into a rankings set for an ultimate World Championships is an amazing accomplishment in itself. For these fledgling sides that normally sit at the bottom of international affairs, London promises a rare opportunity to collect wins and experience. With 31 teams in attendance, competing squads who generally play only one or two winnable games a tournament will find themselves in an arena of unprecedented competitiveness. It’s anyone’s guess as to where the following squads will finish.
Coming away with a singular win from EUC, the Poles will need to turn the hard lessons from that tournament into on-field development if they want to improve their international win tally. A national focus on the Mixed division ahead of next years World Games has drained this side of experience, but only increased it’s hunger.
Previous trips to World Championships have been informative, if not statistically successful for Mexico. London could change that.
It was a delight to see India begin to make their inaugural Mixed appearances on the world stage last year. However, this will be the first real adventure for their Senior Open team outside of Asia, a testament to the development of ultimate in India.
29) DR Congo
In the great expanse of the Internet, the cupboard seems to be criminally bare for the last four teams in our rankings. London will be proving ground for these welcome additions to the international ultimate scene.
If you would like to send us information about your national team, or you feel they weren’t adequately defined in this article join the conversation below! Alternatively we are always looking for information to update the rankings with; feel free to contact me at [email protected] to inform our future coverage from WUGC 2016.
With tournament weight adjusted by a personally assigned relevance ↩
Hat tip to the Aussies. ↩
Sweden were World Champions in 1992 and finished off the podium only once between 1983 and 2000. ↩