by Simon Daish
Croatia made an early impact in the match with Andrej Gacina leading the hosts to an opening victory over Li Ahmet (11-7, 12-10, 11-7), but Turkey responded quickly as Ibrahim Gunduz edged to a tight win against Tomislav Pucar (11-9, 6-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-9) to level the scores.
Abdullah Yigenler then put the visitors ahead for the first time in the match, defeating Frane Kojic across four games (11-7, 3-11, 12-10, 11-8) only for Andrej Gacina to beat Ibrahim Gunduz in the fourth fixture (11-7, 11-9, 11-9), forcing a decider. Fighting back from two games down Li Ahmet made amends for his opening loss by claiming a magnificent result against Tomislav Pucar (5-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-6, 13-11) to bring the tie to a close in Turkey’s favour.
Halmstad was the location of the first Group A3 encounter as Sweden played host to Scandinavian rivals Denmark. Michael Maze made his return to the international stage but was unable to mark his comeback with a win; the 36-year-old Danish legend lost out to Kristian Karlsson in the opening fixture of the tie (11-5, 11-8, 14-12).
The scores were then levelled by Denmark’s Jonathan Groth, who came out on top against Jon Persson (8-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-6) but subsequent victories for Swedish competitors Anton Källberg and Kristian Karlsson over Anders Lind (11-3, 11-1, 11-8) and Jonathan Groth (9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-8) handed the home team the win.
Greece has made a strong start to its European qualifying campaign, prevailing at home to Luxembourg without dropping a game while there was also home joy for the Slovenian and Portuguese teams following their successful outings against Belgium and Hungary. Over in Group A5 Belarus earned an important 3-1 win away to Ukraine.
The six group winners and six runners-up in Group A will qualify directly to the 2019 ITTF-European Team Championships while the six teams finishing bottom of each group will join the Group B winners and runners-up in a further qualifying stage.
One of the standout fixtures in Group B saw the Netherlands hold off a brave challenge from Montenegro, featuring a star performance from the visiting team’s Luka Bakic who won both of his matches against the Dutch line-up.