by Simon Daish
The Spanish team visited Hungary in its opening qualifying group stage match, claiming a superb 3-1 win in Budapest.
Sofia Xuan-Zhang opened the scoring for Spain with a confident display against Szandra Pergel (11-7, 11-9, 14-12) prior to an amazing performance from Galia Dvorak, who earned a fantastic comeback victory over World no.31 Georgina Pota (8-11, 8-11, 11-9, 15-13, 13-11).
While Hungary managed get back into the tie with a win in the third fixture courtesy of Dora Madarasz it was not to be for the hosts as Galia Dvorak registered her second success of the match to complete the victory.
Russia started its qualifying campaign with a home fixture against the lowest ranked team in Group A3 Belarus, but against expectations it was an opening match victory for the latter team.
The Belarusian side established an early lead through the ever-reliable Viktoria Pavlovich, who saw off Polina Mikhailova in straight games (6-11, 9-11, 2-11) before Aleksandra Privalova doubled the advantage for the visitors with her win against Olga Vorobeva (11-6, 11-9, 11-8). Nadezhda Bogdanova then stepped up to defeat Russia’s Yana Noskova (12-10, 3-11, 5-11, 12-10, 11-7) to see Belarus over the line.
Over in Gdansk Li Qian got Poland off to the perfect start at home to Slovenia, triumphing by a three games to nil scoreline against Manca Fajmut (11-7, 11-2, 11-3).
Natalia Partyka then extended the Polish side’s lead; the four-time Paralympic gold medallist overcame Slovenian opponent Alex Galic in straight games (14-12, 9-11, 11-6, 11-6), moving the hosts ahead by a 2-0 margin before Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc toppled Ana Tofant (11-4, 11-8, 11-5) to secure an opening Group A6 win for Poland.
The Netherlands endured an early scare in Group A2 after the team of Li Jie, Kim Vermaas and Britt Eerland recovered to see off Italy while there were also victories for Germany and Austria, who produced perfect home performances against Azerbaijan and Switzerland respectively.
Qualifying directly to the 2019 ITTF-European Team Championships are the teams finishing in first and second positions in each of the six groups of Group A. The six teams finishing in third position of each group in Group A will move through to Stage 2 along with Group B winners and runners-up.
There were home wins all-round in Group B with Turkey and Serbia proving too strong for Estonia and Scotland while Lithuania, Belgium and England also emerged victorious.