European Ultimate Championships: Semis (Open)

One familiar finalists and one newcomer sets the big game up to be a cracker!

Justin Foord catches a goal at EUC 2023. Photo by John Kofi for EUF.

The final four in open featured three teams that were expected to be at this level and one that had come back from an upset early in the tournament. Great Britain, Belgium and Germany have seemed the class of the division all year and it proved so in the build up to the final four, with the only loss any of them had a universe point win for GB over Belgium in power pools. Italy, on the other hand, lost to Spain in the pool stage and then to GB and Belgium in power pools. Despite that, they overcame Ireland and then France in the knockout stages, both 15-11, to reach the semis for the first time. Their reward was a rematch against GB that the British managed well in a 15-11 win, while Belgium made a huge statement with an impressive 15-10 win over Germany1.

Belgium’s future is now

Belgium finished in second at WU24s earlier in July, and have a young generation that has been tipped for a few years to be among the best in Europe, if not the world. This season, though, that generation has showed that they aren’t willing to wait for the old guard to hand over the torch.

Germany came out on O and the teams traded to 2-2 with only one turn. Both offenses had been extremely strong throughout the tournament, as had both D lines. The difference between the two looked like it could be the ability of the O lines to get the disc back on the rare occasion they did turn; Belgium were outstanding at doing so, whereas the Germans had struggled slightly more to do the same against the Czechs in a closer-than-expected quarter2.

On the fifth point of the game, Belgium came down, as usual, in a tight match D. Daan De Marrée, the team’s ace defender, was on German star Holger Beuttenmüller. Germany moved the disc upfield slowly under intense pressure, and Phillip Kaye’s throw pushed Holger3 too wide and he couldn’t quite toe the line. De Marrée started the offense and eventually spotted Mathieu Muller going deep after a blown switch between Steffen Dösscher and Samuel Beuttenmüller left him wide open. Muller caught the huck totally uncontested and Belgium took great joy in their usual break train celebration.

Germany miscued again on the next point. Lander Decraene made Conrad Schlöer attack a huck too early and it sailed over both their heads, but Lander’s huck sailed a little and Belgium turned. Their D didn’t let up though, and forced Nico Müller, Germany’s metronomic offense heartbeat, to push a breakside dump too far. The offense resulted in the same method – Lander hucked for Arthur Fieuws – but this time it ended with a second break. More choo-choo-ing from Belgium, and an early 4-2 lead. Germany took a timeout to regroup.

Germany held, a drama-free score. Belgium did likewise, although they owed that to an outstanding layout grab from De Marrée. Germany held again, and then made their first inroads into the Belgian lead with a break to make the game 5-5. Ben Jonkers tried to fit an IO flick into a small gap to De Marrée and Schlöer knocked it away. The offense was a bit frantic, but Jonathan Schall eventually found Jonathan Meyer-Bothling wide open on the break side and the Germans stormed the field.

Germany came down with an FSU zone. Belgium worked through it patiently until Jonkers fired deep for Tobe Decraene to pull down the score under pressure. On the next O point Nico Müller caught the centring pass and threw a break to Dösscher. Unfortunately for Germany, Dösscher had just turned to run downfield. Belgium started quickly, got into and endzone set and after some patient movement around the back Gaëtan Vanden Broeck found De Marrée for yet another break. 7-5 to Belgium, and they called a timeout to set up a line.

Germany needed to hold to extend the half. They played some calm offense with Belgium sagging off the handlers to make the passing lanes more difficult to navigate. Dösscher threw to Holger but Benjamin Vereecken had dropped off his mark into the lane and snatched it away. He popped it to Lander and, true to form, Lander ripped it deep for U24 teammate Sofiène Bontemps to take half, 8-5. Belgium were flying, and the German offense had held only half of their points – four holds, four breaks.

Belgium came out on offense after the break. Jonkers threw too far, hucking out of the back of the endzone, and Germany took full advantage. Schlöer and Samuel were both playing on the D line, drafted over from O4 to help get the vital break. They were heavily involved, and Samuel sent an offhand into the endzone for Vlad Basov for the vital break.

The Germans came out in a 2-3-2 zone and forced Belgium to take a lot of passes. While trying to work it down a sideline, a throw went too close to Meyer-Bothling and he snatched it away. Belgium’s O line turned once all first half, and they had turned twice in the first two points of the second. This time, though, Germany sent a huck too far for Schlöer and Belgium recovered to hold for a 9-6 lead. Germany held again, and then sent the D line out for another try.

The Germans left the zone that had caused Belgium problems and went with match, Schlöer following De Marrée around. Belgium again struggled for forward momentum and Aaron Vander Weghe went deep for Pieterjan De Meulenaere. Paul Herkens got in front, though, and after a discussion about a potential foul the turn stood. Germany also struggled to move the disc quickly, but Herkens spotted Kenichiro Sennefelder in the back corner and arced a flick across the field for another German break, bringing them back to 9-8 and continuing their momentum in the second half. The German sideline, both the open team and players from other teams that were watching, were loud and engaged, sensing that their team had the upper hand.

Germany went back to the zone to try to complete the comeback. The zone worked, making Belgium slow their offense, but Jonkers caught a pop on the sideline and sent a pinpoint shot down the line for De Marrée, throwing through contact from Samuel. The German O line responded with more grinding movement, the Belgians making them work for every yard, and when Hartley Greenwald shot for the endzone Mathieu Muller read it like a book. He jumped the cut, took the disc away for Belgium and started the quick strike offense. De Marrée shot deep for Bontemps, flanked by two German defenders, and all three missed it. Muller, standing behind, clap caught the goal standing still for another Belgian break and a good definition of being in the right place at the right time.

Both teams held. The German defense was looking slightly tired, having expended so much effort to try and get back into the game. Samuel, playing O, threw a simple under to Greenwald but hadn’t accounted for De Marrée completely ignoring his mark and jumping the lane. Belgium moved the disc quickly and eventually found Muller, again free in the back of the endzone. From a nervy 9-8 lead, Belgium now led 13-9.

The teams traded clean holds again, putting Belgium’s defense out to try and win the game. Bontemps, perhaps the best puller at the tournament, sent another booming backhand blade downfield to pin Germany inside their own endzone. They worked it all the way to the doorstep of the endzone but a swing from Greenwald to Dösscher bobbled mid-air and went over the receiver’s head. Belgium centred to Ouchinsky, who took a timeout. Clearly they decided in the break that they wanted this dance done with because the play was a De Marrée deep cut from the back of the stack. Ouchinsky sent it, De Marrée skied Holger and popped it to Lander for the win.

Belgium were excellent. They turned only three times in each half while scoring seven breaks on one of the best offenses in Europe. De Marrée was, predictably, fantastic5 but no one in red had a bad game. Tobe and Lander Decraene continue to show how vital they both are in different roles downfield, while the reliable and understated Muller was seemingly always in the right spot to help the team. Germany were crestfallen, but the game had been up for some time by the time the last point went in. Samuel Beuttenmüller had a very good game6 but was involved in a crucial late turn, and while Nico Müller had four assists he also turned twice and struggled to impose himself on the game amid Belgian pressure.

Vereecken, one of Belgium’s captains, was delighted with the win. “It feels amazing to be in the final,” he said. “It’s good to have revenge, we saw Germany twice earlier in the year at London Invite and we lost twice so we were really pumped up for this game. We executed the game plan, we had a team meeting last night and studied all of their plays. I think it paid off.”

Belgium and GB are familiar with each other too. “I think we’re feeling pretty confident. We won at London Invite with a pretty small roster and we saw them at this tournament in power pools. We started off slow7 but in the second half we pushed it back to universe and that really increases our confidence going into the final tomorrow.”

Belgium are a team that clearly enjoys playing with each other, and the open team has been a vocal presence on the sideline for the women’s team as well.

“[The atmosphere] is great,” confirmed Vereecken. “I think the choo choo train just hypes everyone up, it’s the best thing invented in Belgian ultimate! It’s a great group of guys, the trust in each other is really high and even when we’re down we always know that we can get the breaks and get back into the game.”

Great Britain continue their title defense

The other semi saw teams even more acquainted with one another. Players from Clapham and BFD La Fotta were all over these rosters, teams that have been matching up in European semis and finals for the best part of the last decade. They had also played in power pools in a game that featured an early 5-1 lead for GB that became a 6-6 tie before GB pulled away late.

This game started more serenely. GB started on O and dealt with the Italian zone well, taking 16 passes to score but never seeming in danger of giving up the disc. There was a certain degree of symmetry that Italy also took 16 passes to score their first hold, although their offense struggled slightly more with GB’s match pressure.

The next point saw the first turn, and the first break. Ben Funk threw just out of Justin Foord’s sizeable reach, and despite Foord’s admirable greatest effort his foot was on the line on takeoff and the Italians took possession with a short field.–7Ens?feature=share&t=542 Ollie Gordon’s point block got the disc back, but another turn allowed the Italian D line to gather themselves and Luca Tognetti found Francesco Martini, who caught it lying on his back after a dramatic bobble. Italy were up 1-2.

GB held, a methodical 32-pass score against a good Italian zone. Their D line put a lot of pressure on the Italian unders and forced a throwaway, Conrad Wilson catching after it drifted past its intended target. GB also sailed a pass, though, and it was Ethan Morrell recovering back into position after the Italians got the disc back that put off Nicolo Brunelli onm the catch, getting the disc back for GB’s D. GB played with more patience this time and took the break back, Mark Bignal throwing a lefty inside backhand to Wilson for the score to restore things back to serve at 3-2.

Both teams settled into a rhythm. The O lines were both looking to attack the deep space and, despite a couple of turns by the Italians, both were holding ground. It wasn’t until an uncharacteristic error from Edoardo Trombetti close to his own brick mark that GB were able to pull further away, a two-pass score putting them 7-5 up. The teams traded to half, with the game on a razor’s edge.

Italy were patient in waiting for the chance to bring the game back on serve, eventually getting an opportunity in a long point with the score at 9-8. Josh Eats tried to thread in inside flick to James Mead but put too much on it, the first turn by the GB O line since they were broken on the third point of the game. Italy tried a deep shot but it hung for seemingly ages, giving GB plenty of time to get bodies underneath it. Foord tried to come from outside the pack and sky everyone but went too early, as did ‘Cioppo’ Santucci, and Ben Funk cleared up as they landed. He collided with Santucci in the effort, though, and a protracted discussion followed. Eventually it was settled as a turn for GB with Funk on the disc.–7Ens?feature=share&t=3743 GB worked all the way down the field and, after some very tight endzone D from the Italians, turned on an offhand shot into the endzone. Italy spurned a second chance to get back into the game as GB tightened up on D closer to their own endzone, and GB executed at the third time of asking.

The Italian offense was the unit that looked smoother now. Another clean hold put the game at 10-9, and another GB turn followed soon after with a deep shot knocked away. The D again couldn’t convert, though, and GB scored with a run down the open side after some face guarding in the endzone.

Italy’s O had been playing well in the second half but next time out Simone Gasperini shooting deep for Lorenzo Pavan but putting it a bit too far and too flat for the standout cutter to reel in. They got the disc back thanks to a smart poach block from Trombetti and scored to bring the score to 11-10.

GB’s O line returned to form with a quick, clean hold. Italy didn’t respond in kind. Pavan’s deep throw came out all wrong and the GB D line took advantage, Wilson shooting deep for Ash Yeo after the O line stalwart had crossed to try and make the breakthrough. GB were fired up now they were equipped with a three-point lead and a layout bid on the first Italian pass was close. Gasperini turfed a flick soon after and the D line scored somewhat fortuitously – an inside flick to Andy Hillman sailed past him and right into the chest of Morrell, who found Rhodri Williams on an around after some give and go movement. Williams dropped it trying to toe the line though, and the Italians played a quick swing around the back. The problem was that the middle handler had cleared out and the only player anywhere near the throw was Hillman, who caught the easiest Callahan you’ll ever see. 14-10, and GB were on the doorstep of another European final.

To Italy’s credit, they called a timeout and picked themselves up after two hugely damaging breaks. They held to put the onus back on GB, but the Brits made no mistakes with Foord arcing a flick across the field to Yeo to get them back in the gold medal game for a sixth EUC in a row.

Abrams, who threw five assists in the game and was crucial in much of GB’s more expansive play, said that the D line pressure was central to the win. “I think that was a game of pressure building up over time. Not many breaks came early but, come the end of the game, we’ve got a really deep team that we back to help deliver pressure and that built up over time. We got some opportunities early in the game but weren’t able to complete them but the guys showed championship mentality at the end of that to pump them in and finish the game for us.”

He said the final would be an exciting game: “Belgium have been showing what they can do this year and we’ll back ourselves to match up against them. Hopefully our experience level will help us push through in that game.”

  1. The stream here starts at 2-1 to Germany. 

  2. Germany won 15-13 but the Czechs had two chances to bring the game to universe with the Germans on O at 14-13. 

  3. There are three Beuttenmüllers on the Germany team, so we’ll stick to forenames for ease here and take the same approach with the several sets of brothers on the Belgium team, Tobe and Lander Decraene and Arthur and Aaron Vander Weghe. 

  4. Schlöer has played a lot of the season on the D line but had played mostly O later in the tournament. 

  5. Three goals, five assists and a block somehow not explaining how vital he is to the team. 

  6. Four goals and an assist, playing both sides of the disc 

  7. GB took half 8-3. 

  1. Sean Colfer
    Sean Colfer

    Sean Colfer is based in London. He’s played for teams across the UK since 2006 and has been writing about and commentating on ultimate since 2010. Follow him on Twitter @seancolfer, or follow @ShowGameUlti on Instagram for more on UK and Irish ultimate.


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