The finalists in 2019 look strong again but Belgium are on the come up
July 15, 2023 by Sean Colfer in Preview with 0 comments
The European Ultimate Championships comes around every four years, and is a chance for European nations to stake their claim as the best on the continent. This edition is being held in Limerick, Ireland, and as such promises to have weather conditions acting as an equalizer all week.
Date: July 15 – 22
Location: Limerick, Ireland
Schedule: Live schedule here
Weather: Wet with dry spells, temperatures in high teens C/high 60s F and medium winds
How to watch: Ulti.TV YouTube channel
The open division has been dominated in recent editions by reigning champions Great Britain. They have won four of the last five finals, only losing in 2011 to Sweden in a tight, controversial final1.
The usual suspects are back for GB, with a heavy Clapham influence predictably running through the squad. Justin Foord, Ollie Gordon, Will Rowledge, Ashley Yeo and Tom Abrams were all selected for the World Games last year2 and players like James Mead, Andy Hillman and Ben Funk have been central parts of the Clapham dynasty. Some younger players and additions from new clubs has added a bit of diversity to the roster: Sam Cameron and Andrew Warnock play for Bristol, a team on the upswing, while Joel Terry comes from Alba and Mark Bignal comes from Reading in the mixed division. The criticism of this team has been some head-scratching losses throughout the year and that some of its players are at the back end of their peaks. They are still more than talented enough to win this tournament.
The last two finals have been contested against Germany, with the 2019 version a very close, universe-point win by the Brits. Both teams are expected to feature prominently again. Germany is also pretty similar to the 2019 vintage, with many players returning for another crack at the title. Nico Muller is perhaps the finest handler in Europe and looked to be hitting form by the end of the recent London Invite. Holger Beuttenmüller has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the World Games and looks back to imposing form, while Conrad Schlör remains a defensive menace that has added to his offensive arsenal since 2019. The Wall City contingent of Phillip Kaye, Christian Gaffney and Hartley Greenwald worked well together at London Invite, and Steffan Döscher remains as consistent as ever. This team will win a lot of games this week, and are strongly favored to be in the medals.
The upstart here is Belgium. Fresh off a silver medal at WU24 in Nottingham last week, the Belgians look ready to compete at the top level in Europe already. Some of the best players that were on show last week – Daan De Marrée, Sofiene Bontemps, Tobe and Lander Decraene, Ben Jonkers, Gaëten Vanden Broeck and Nicolas Hoquez – are pulling double duty and will be in Limerick. They’re joined by some of the best players from the best club team in Europe on current form, Mooncatchers, including Matthieu Muller, John Beeckmans and Victor Ouchinsky, and players from across the strong Belgian club scene. This team is deeper than the WU24 team, and has enough disc handling that they shouldn’t have to rely too heavily on the stars early on. Losing Reph Jonkers, the talismanic cutter that lit up WUCC 2022, to an ACL injury at Windmill was a huge blow but this team is good enough to make quite a racket without him.
These three teams appear to be in a bracket by themselves and are all good enough to bring the title home. There’s a slight drop off from here to the next level, but there are some very good teams vying for semis spots.
Italy had a reasonably successful WU24 by objective standards, but by their recent lofty achievements it might have been seen internally as a disappointment3. None of those players are on the open team, some of them instead playing mixed in Limerick. As such there’s a bit of talent that might make the team better missing but plenty of familiar faces from BFD La Fotta, one of the best club teams in Europe. Arturo Laffi, Simone Gasperini, Edoardo Trombetti and Riccardo Zanni are brilliant offensive threats, while Giovanni ‘Cioppo’ Santucci and Luca Tognetti are as good as anyone on the other side of the disc. They might be lacking some top end depth that would add even more to the roster, but Italy will be seeing anything less than semis as an underperformance, and will be aiming to win. Them doing so would be a surprise, but it’s certainly not an outrageous thought.
The French team is younger than many others at this tournament. They elected not to send teams to Nottingham and instead focus on this tournament, a somewhat controversial decision with the players eligible for both. Anchored by World Games and AUDL star Quentin Roger, the team is stocked with fast players and a good level of disc skills. While they might lack experience at the top level, with French clubs having not quite reached the heights of those in the nations above, this group performed well at Windmill and reached the open final, defeating Clapham heavily on the way. If things come together for them in Limerick they can cause some shocks.
The game in the Czech Republic has been growing and improving for some time. FUJ and 3SB have had some good results in recent years, and have continued that this season. The Czechs are a trendy dark horse pick but have so far not been able to consistently trouble the best teams despite having obvious ability and depth. David Nowak is likely to be the main man for this team but Matyáš Brandstetter was excellent for Left Overs in the mixed division of EUCF last season and could be one to watch. Their draw seems likely to put them in a power pool with GB and Belgium, two teams that they would probably struggle with, but with a real opportunity to finish third and give themselves a shot at semis.
The other team with a similar path to the Czechs, and their potential opponents in the power pool, is the Netherlands. They are the penultimate seed here but the roster is clearly better than that. Despite focusing largely on mixed via GRUT in recent years, there are some very talented players in the single gender teams at EUC. Tom Blasman, the GRUT handler who led the mixed division in stats at WU24, leads from the front here but there are a lot of players with experience at the top level in Europe and some tall, physical cutters. They might not have enough to win this tournament but there’s certainly enough to be difficult and unpleasant to play against for any team at the event.
Spain, Austria and home team Ireland are also coming into the tournament with some intriguing names on the roster and an opportunity to make quarters. Ireland have been without former Pelt and La Fotta handler Padraig Sweeney for much of the season but his late addition will make a significant difference to their offensive capabilities. Crossovers and then power pools will be crucial for all three, with at least one quarters spot up for grabs once you go past the top seven teams above.
There will likely be some surprises due to the wind and the rain, but it’s difficult to look past a final involving two of the three top teams. This feels like the most open that the division has been in a while and the quarters, in particular, look like giving us some enticing games. Bring it on.
The game was very physical and the play at 13.45, where a Swedish receiver drops a goal and picks it back up quickly without any GB player noticing it and questioning the score, has entered a level of infamy in Europe. ↩
Gordon was an injury replacement after Rowledge damaged his shoulder at Windmill 2022. ↩
The Italians won silver and bronze at the last two WU24 tournaments, so a fourth-place finish will not have been what they were dreaming of. ↩