by Simon Daish
There was an exciting build up to England’s encounter with Slovakia, with a good number of spectators in attendance and the match being streamed live via the SPORTbible Facebook page.
However, the bronze medal winning squad from the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships endured a disappointing evening in Preston as Slovakia picked up a stunning away win.
The opening tie pitted Lubomir Pistej up against the English National Champion Paul Drinkhall, and despite the home player’s capture of game one the match went to the Slovakian (8-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-4).
Then it appeared that Liam Pitchford had given the hosts a lifeline back into the match after his victory over Yang Wang (5-11, 11-7, 11-7, 7-11, 8-11). However, Slovakia struck back as Peter Sereda and Yang Wang saw off Samuel Walker (11-7, 9-11, 15-13, 12-10) and Paul Drinkhall (11-8, 11-8, 11-4) to complete a 1-3 scoreline in favour of the visitors.
Russia was the only home side to register a win in the opening round of play off matches, with Serbia suffering a 3-0 defeat in Moscow.
Alexander Shibaev opened the scoring for the hosts with a fine showing against Lorencio Lupulesku (11-7, 11-5, 11-5) before subsequent successes for Vasily Lakeev and Mikhail Paikov over Serbia’s Bojan Crepulja (11-3, 10-12, 11-8, 12-10) and Ivor Katic (12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8) seal the result.
There was a standout performance from Jakub Dyjas in Klatovy as Poland edged out the Czech Republic in a thrilling encounter.
Jakub Dyjas picked up a brace of victories against Lubomír Jančařík (13-11, 11-8, 11-9) and Tomaš Polansky (11-3, 11-8, 7-11, 13-11) as Poland edged to a 2-3 away win.
The other play off match to take place was played out on Monday 10th April with Hungary hosting Belarus.
Adam Szudi gave the hosts an early lead in the tie following his triumph over Pavel Platonov (6-11, 6-11, 11-8, 4-11), but a win for Aliaksandr Khanin against Tamas Lakatos (12-10, 11-5, 5-11, 9-11, 12-10) and a Vladimir Samsonov brace against Bence Majoros (11-5, 12-10, 11-6) and Adam Szudi (11-4, 11-5, 8-11, 10-12, 11-5) ensured Belarus took home the advantage.