24 Feb 2018

Pandemonium, the crowd on its feet, on the evening of Friday 23rd February, England beat Brazil to book their place in the semi-final stage of the Men’s event at the 2018 ITTF Team World Cup in London’s Copper Box arena.

They emerged successful by three matches to one with Liam Pitchford the backbone of victory as a minimal bronze medal was assured.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager

In the vital second match of the fixture, he beat Hugo Calderano in three straight games (11-4, 11-6, 11-6), the win coming after Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker had recovered from a two games to nil deficit in the opening doubles contest against Eric Jouti and Gustavo Tsuboi (5-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6).

A recovery by England, in the next match it was the same but from Brazil; Gustavo Tsuboi trailed Paul Drinkhall by two games to nil, he won the third by the very narrowest of margins before progressing from strength to strength to seal a five games victory (8-11, 6-11, 14-12, 11-4, 11-6).

“Maybe he started to play more freely towards the end of the third game; I never had a match point. It’s sport I lost from two-nil up against Gustavo but earlier we won the doubles from two-nil down. When we got the eighth seeding late on, it opened up the possibility of a medal, being number two in the group we’re expected to get to the quarter-finals. Then you’re waiting for the draw and it was a good draw and we took advantage of that.” Paul Drinkhall

Matters now somewhat in the balance Liam Pitchford returned to the fray, after a somewhat nervous first game he found his rhythm to record a four games success (6-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-8).

“I’m really lost for words, I don’t know what to say. I’m over the moon. I’ve been working recently with psychologists and one-to-one with coaches, working on small things in my game that I need in order to make the step up. It’s been up and down but now I feel I’m flourishing. I can’t really explain it; I’m just playing well and enjoying the moment. I’ve been under pressure in a couple of matches but managed to come through them, before, that wasn’t happening but now I’m stepping up.” Liam Pitchford.

In the penultimate round China awaits.

“We’ve got to approach the semi-final against China the same way we would against anyone else. We put them under pressure at the Olympics and we weren’t that far away.” Liam Pitchford

Notably Liu Guozheng, the national coach on duty, made no change to the selection for the quarter-final engagement but he did make a change to the formation, Fan Zhendong partnered Xu Xin as opposed to in the group phase when Ma Long had been the foil for Xu Xin. However, once again there was no place for Lin Gaoyuan or Yu Ziyang.

“In this type of competition every member of the squad has a chance to play, I select the best team for each match. It is the same for the doubles, I select the best pair for who I think may be our opponents. In particular I am pleased with the way Ma Long has played. He has been excellent, he has been both clinical and mature.” Liu Guozheng

Decisions taken, the selection made, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin combined to beat Benedikt Duda and Patrick Franziska (11-5, 11-6, 11-5); Ma Long followed suit by overcoming Ruwen Filus (11-9, 11-8, 11-8), before Xu Xin closed the curtain. He overcame Benedikt Duda (11-4, 11-9, 11-7).

“I’m just really happy, especially to do it here in London. Maybe the Team World Cup isn’t as big as the World Championships or Olympics, but it’s a world medal and you’ve got to beat some good teams to get it and we’ve done that again. Hopefully we’ll give a good performance tomorrow; we go into it with belief. Sam Walker

The semi-final contest between China and England is scheduled for Saturday 24th February at 12.00 noon (local time).

World Cup 2018 ITTF Team World Cup Liam Pitchford

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Day 4 - 2018 ITTF Team World Cup