by Wade Townsend
Great Britain have continued their fine 2016 form by advancing to the quarterfinals in Rio. What’s their oseances against China? Probably less than Leicester City had at winning the Premier league title. A match against Japan or Germany would have been favoured by Great Britain, but you don’t get to choose your opponents. If they can get a game on the board that will be a small victory for Team GB. Three will be a stretch too far — but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s an Olympics for? China will be looking to progress to the semi-finals without dramas and won’t want to be on the table for long. Watch to see British tenacity as they fight against the odds so as not to make a Rio Brexit.
Sweden and South Korea have table tennis ingrained in their national identities. Both have had Olympic gold medallists and a quarterfinal appearance will not be enough for either side. The teams bring to the table a mix of youth and experience. Sweden has two left handers, and also a pimple forehand player in Mattias Karlsson —this is not the conventional Swedish lineup of days gone by. The South Korean team is probably one of the most dynamic in Rio. Joo Saeyuk may not have been present in the individual event, but expect the defender to play two singles matches in the teams, leaving Jeoung and Lee to take care of the doubles. A tough semi-final is waiting for the winner, but a possible podium finish may be the reward for who ever gets over the line today.
Japan survived a scare against Poland yesterday. It was proof that a team can be more than the sum of its parts. They can also be less. Koki Niwa’s game has been inconsistent this year. Up until yesterday he looked to have shaken off his poor World Tour form in Rio, but against Poland it was back. They may struggle on day nine against Hong Kong as they hope history doesn’t repeat. In London 2012 Hong Kong knocked Japan out of the team event 3-2 in the quarterfinal stage. Losses for Niwa is not the only similarity going in to this match. With their lineup, Japan struggles to find an established doubles pairing, while Hong Kong has a safe and effective combination. Meanwhile, Wong Chun Ting has had good results against the Japanese style in the past and will prove a tough opponent. Japan is relying on Mizutani to carry the team and take two singles wins — although even this wasn’t enough in London. If Jun havers it will definitely be the end of the road for Japan in Rio. This match is shaping up to be the upset of day nine.
European neighbours battle in this quarterfinal match between Austria and Germany. Austria are current European champions, but the one caveat is that Germany did not have a full strength team in the event. In Rio there will be no question marks hovering around if they do knockout the number two seeds. But against a lineup that includes Dima and Timo is it possible? Austria has the advantage in doubles and is a must win match for them. However, if it comes down to the third player to perform, then Germany will edge out Austria. Bastian Steger was firing all cylinders yesterday and may be just the boost the German team needs if they are going to get a medal in Rio.
The last match on day nine will see Germany, the remaining European hope for a medal in the women’s draw, up against Japan. It’s a clash of the number two and three seeds so on paper promises to be a close encounter. Germany are European champions and now have a chance to break the Asian dominance of the podium in the women’s game. Japan are favourites and have the greater depth to their team. It is also not a stretch of the imagination to say that this is a home game for the Japanese women’s team — Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The crowd is going to be behind the number two seeds, and in this encounter that could make all the difference. A strong performance from Petrissa Solja is the key to Germany winning. At 22 years of age that is a big responsibility for the German. She has the game to upset her opponents and will look for a repeat of her 2015 World Cup performance where she knocked out Ai Fukuhara. Watch to see how Japan reacts under pressure as they fight to guarantee a women’s medal in Rio.
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