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NFL Flag world championship from Cologne

(Aug. 22, 2006) -- The 10 teams that will take part in the seventh annual NFL Flag Football World Championship (FFWC) from Aug. 22-26 have arrived from around the world in Cologne, Germany. The NFL is proud to partner with Reebok, EA and Gatorade and promote this prestigious coed tournament, which motivates boys and girls to participate in a fun and safe sport.

Teams of 12- to 14-year-olds from 10 nations and three continents will compete for the title of world champions, which is currently held by Thailand. Many have traveled thousands of miles to play against fellow young athletes from Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand and the United States.

"It was a long journey, but I'm excited to be here," said USA quarterback Yanni Gavalas, whose team is from Queens and Long Island, N.Y., and was among the first to arrive on the morning of Aug. 22. "The team from China was on the same flight from Frankfurt as us and they're all very tall. One of them helped carry my bag, so everyone already seems really friendly."

In Cologne the teams will acclimatize before visiting Phantasialand amusement park on Aug. 23. Following a brief period on the practice field, the draw that will determine the tournament's groups and game schedule will be made during an evening welcome dinner.

The game action kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 24, at the historic city's Leichtathletik Stadion. The competition will be spread over three consecutive days; a round robin format is played by two groups of five teams to determine the four semi-finalists and ultimately the two teams that will play for the world title.

The oldest lineman ever to play in the National Football League is on hand to inspire the participants. Ray Brown, a 20-year NFL veteran tackle with the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, St Louis Rams and Phoenix Cardinals is the event's guest of honor, and at 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he will tower over even the tallest of youngsters.

"I love the idea that football is being introduced to kids all over the world and it gives them an opportunity to simulate the players that they might see on television," said Brown, who welcomed players as they arrived at the tournament hotel.

"Maybe one day some of them will play in the NFL. That takes a lot of hard work, but just from talking to these kids I can tell that they are already putting in the time. It's not like they just woke up and decided to do this. They have a work ethic that transfers over to any type of football."

Defending the crown won by Thailand last year will be the Chaopraya Wittayakom School from Bangkok, while Ecole River Heights, a middle school team from Manitoba, will fly the flag for Canada. Las Aguilas of Monterrey, who finished in third place in Beijing in 2005 and as runner-up in Vancouver in 2004, will represent Mexico.

Hopes of a European victory rest with Schuldorf Bergstrasse Hillsiders from Germany, Pere Vives Vich of Spain and Da Vinci College Leonardo of Leiden in the Netherlands. China sends its champion Pei Zhen Middle School of Guangzhou to Cologne, while Suri Middle School from Seoul represents Korea. Japan's hopes lie with Fujitsu Junior Frontiers from Kawasaki.

NFL Vice President of Football Operations International John Beake said, "Once these youngsters have immersed themselves in the European culture I am sure they will treat us to some exciting plays on the field. This will be flag football at its best and most entertaining."

The website www.NFL-Flag.com will feature game recaps, player interviews and quotes, statistics, a daily web log, photo galleries and all the highlights from each day of flag football action and sightseeing.

Previous NFL Flag Football World Championships have been held in Toronto, Berlin, Mexico City, Tokyo, Vancouver and Beijing. Australia (2000), USA (2001, 2002, 2004), Mexico (2003) and Thailand (2005) have all been crowned world champions during the event's seven-year history.

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