When the International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championship begins on Saturday, the U.S. National Team has one mission in mind – to reclaim the title won by Canada two years ago.
Canada scored a 24-6 triumph over the U.S. in the 2016 Gold Medal Game, following two hard-fought wins over Mexico. The Canadians and Americans own each of the four championships, alternating titles since the biennial event's inception.
Here's a look at this year's international competitors, with thoughts on each from U.S. National Team Senior Manager Aaron Ingram:
The U.S. opens against Australia on Saturday. Two years ago, the Australians notched a 72-0 victory over China, then dropped two straight, including a 43-13 loss to Austria in the fifth-place game.
Coach AI says: "We're excited to open the tournament versus Australia. In China (in 2016) we didn’t get to play them, so our program is excited to continue to play new opponents and broaden our knowledge of international play."
With its strong history in the IFAF World Championship and International Bowl – including a 44-26 win in the U-18 meeting with the U.S. in January at AT&T Stadium – the Canadians will again challenge the U.S. for the title.
Running back Jalen Philpot, who had 115 yards and a touchdown to to earn MVP honors in that January triumph, leads an experienced squad that wants to keep the crown in Canada.
Coach AI says: "Canada is the defending champion from 2016 in Harbin, China. We expect a heavyweight fight and for it to go 15 rounds. We're up to the challenge and excited to see them again and go toe to toe!"
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The Japanese scored one of the more impressive wins at January's International Bowl, with a 21-6 victory over the U.S. U-17 Stripes, where they displayed disciplined execution in all facets and impressive physicality.
In the 2016 IFAF World Championship, Japan dropped a 24-7 decision to Mexico in the Bronze Medal Game, after a 42-0 win over Australia and 50-20 loss to the U.S.
Coach AI says: "Japan has outstanding speed and schemes. They'll be much improved and very organized. They'll pose a problem for all in the tournament."
Mexican teams went 1-3 at International Bowl IX. UANL-Mexico's 20-9 win over the U.S. U-18 Select came despite a 373-183 yardage disadvantage, as its defense didn't yield a TD until late in the fourth quarter.
After a bronze medal win in 2016, Mexico hopes to take that next step while defending the home turf.
Coach AI says: "Mexico’s National Team is always very big and very physical. It's going to be awesome to see them and their fan base in their home country as the host."
While Sweden was part of Team Nordic at January's International Bowl, no one is sure what to expect from them in this event.
Coach AI says: "We haven’t seen Sweden at all and I'm completely in the dark on them."
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