by Simon Daish
Two years ago at the 2015 European Championships Romania missed out on the top step of the medals podium, suffering a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Germany, but this time around the two sides were involved in a much closer battle.
Both teams had enjoyed positive campaigns in Luxembourg and fully justified their positions as the top two seeded sides in the Women’s Championship Division by reaching the final.
Elizabeta Samara has been one of the most consistent players at the tournament playing a hugely important role in Romania’s journey throughout the course of the event, and she looked at her best at the start of the title match claiming a powerful win over Han Ying (9-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-8, 11-7) in the opening encounter.
“It was a fantastic match; very difficult. We expected that, there was no surprise in that department. I was prepared for the long rallies against Han Ying”, Elizabeta Samara.
The Germany team looked for a response and it didn’t take long to arrive as Shan Xiaona stepped up to the table to beat Daniela Monteiro Dodean in straight games (6-11, 6-11, 7-11) to bring the scoreboard level.
Next up was the third fixture of the match which saw young German star Nina Mittelham, 20, take on a player two years her senior Bernadette Szocs. While Nina Mittelham was able to do some damage in the third end it was the Romanian came through the tie the happier player (11-5, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6) leaving Germany trailing once again.
Brimming with confidence from her early success Shan Xiaona kept the title defence alive with another strong showing in her second encounter, coming out on top against Elizabeta Samara in four ends (8-11, 9-11, 17-15, 3-11) to force a deciding fixture.
The attention turned to two players who had experienced defeats in their opening encounter in the final as Han Ying and Daniela Monteiro Dodean met in the crucial fifth fixture which would determine which team would lift the trophy.
On paper the match favoured World No.9 Han Ying but in rather shocking circumstances it was Daniela Monteiro Dodean who raced into a commanding lead, moving Romania to within a single game win from the title.
Determined not to give in Han Ying fought back picking up a win in game three and was well positioned to take the fourth end after the German moved 8-10 ahead.
However, a fantastic effort saw Daniela Monteiro Dodean recover to claim the next four points in a row to seal the victory (11-4, 11-8, 4-11, 12-10) and give Romania the gold medal for the first time since 2005.
“I was nervous before starting the game and I was under double pressure because my husband (Joao Monteiro) is playing for Portugal against the German team, but we did it and won the gold medal. I think we can work so well together because we spend more time together than other teams, we often visit each other or practise together in other countries where other team members live and play as professional players. We are close together and we work like a family!”, Daniela Monteiro Dodean.
There were scenes of jubilation from the Romanian team after the match, and coach Viorel Filimon expressed his delight at seeing his players excel in the final:
“I have waited 12 years for this gold. Finally we reached it. We did not have any special preparation, our main weapon was the great quality of each player. The girls told me at the beginning that each must win one match. They stuck to it until the end”, Viorel Filimon.