Making predictions on what will happen at ECBU 2019 so far out is quite difficult. Teams haven’t been formally submitted yet so it’s somewhat difficult to gauge how much each country is focusing on the beach with so much other ultimate happening this year – grass Europeans, another under-24 championship and the ever-present EUC season will all have an effect. Still, we’ve looked at how teams have done historically along with what indicators we can to see who might be teams to look out for in May.
I’ve taken five teams in the three central divisions, while our new writer Maya Israel will be taking on the masters’ divisions later in the week. Before we start – a (slightly biased) shout out to Great Britain as the only team to be featuring in all eight divisions!
The men’s division will see 13 teams vying for the title, the women’s will have seven and there will be 18 mixed teams. So, let’s look at a team for every division plus a couple of extras.
Spain is a country steeped in beach ultimate, much like local rivals (and soon-to-be hosts) Portugal. The Spanish used to alternate their national championships between beach and grass until a recent change; they have historically struggled on grass but been more competitive on the beach. This year, Sabe A Mixta, a warm-up mixed tournament held in Valencia a few weeks ago, seems to the best guide so far as to what we can expect in Portimao. Spain won that tournament, beating Great Britain in the final. A win like that is a real statement from the Spanish – the field featured teams like Portugal, Germany and Russia as well, all of whom are powerhouses.
That bodes very well for Spain heading into EBUC. They also won renowned beach tournament CFC in Lanzarote last November, so they’re building up to EBUC with some real successes. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep that momentum up – they finished second at a warm-up ahead of WCBU but weren’t able to make the quarters. They’ll be aiming to improve on that.
Great Britain Men
Great Britain’s men have carved out a niche on the beach. They have been runners-up at the last two WCBU events, losing to the United States at both. The team is once again made up almost entirely of Clapham players who have an existing cohesion in place, and a number of the squad already possess silver medals from Royan in 2017. Captain Justin Foord is one of the most well-known players in Europe, having been the leader of dominant Great Britain and Clapham teams for most of the last decade – not to mention his exploits across the pond for Toronto-based teams. He returns here with experienced heads like fellow World Games players Matt Parslow and Tom Abrams. This team will have its sights set on gold, and they’ll take some stopping if their recent results are anything to go by.
It seems obvious to point out that this team is one to look for given that they are the reigning world champions, but it bears mentioning; the only team to stop the USA winning gold in Royan was the Russian women. Without seeing the squad it’s difficult to tell exactly how strong they’ll be, but Russia has been successful on the beach for many years and the likes of Sasha Pustovaia and Olga Podolskaia – who made the improbable layout catch that won those gold medals – have the kind of skills that make them a nightmare for any opponent, no matter the surface. If they can bring the kind of offensive precision and sheer guts that they showed in France they’ll be a very good bet to add to their championship collection.
Another team that performed well at WCBU and with a good pedigree on beach is the Swiss. They’re reigning silver medallists at this event and finished sixth on Royan, with a second-place finish on the grass as well. The recent success of club team FABulous (Bern) shows clearly that there’s plenty of talent in Swiss ultimate – Laura Niederhauser and Isabelle Guttinger were particularly good in France but with the kind of depth that the Swiss have exhibited in recent years there could be a whole new crop to keep an eye on in Portimao. Whoever is in the team, they will have a good shot at pushing the Russians.
Truthfully, I have absolutely no idea who will be on this team or how they might perform, but that’s largely because I don’t ever recall Luxembourg entering a team before! It’ll be cool to see another team enter into the championships to pit themselves against the rest of Europe.
Best of the rest
Outside of these teams, the men’s division will be fascinating at the top – Germany, Italy, Belgium and Russia will all look to push Great Britain as much as they can and will have the kind of athletes that are essential in doing so. The mixed division is traditionally the tightest of all and will likely feature a lot of very closely-matched teams. Several of these teams played at Sabe A Mixta too – Great Britain (second), Portugal (third), Russia (fourth) and Germany (sixth) were predictably strong, and there will always be a surprise package that shocks everyone. It seems as though that could be the Czechs, who finished eighth in Valencia. The Latvian women showed real potential for shocks in Royan behind stars Sabine Smite and Lasma Kublicka, and both Denmark and Great Britain are also traditionally strong on this surface.
We’ll take a closer look at things once the rosters have been confirmed, and we have a slightly clearer picture of how strong all these teams look! Stay tuned later this week for more previews, and for news as we get closer and closer to EBUC kicking off in May.